Chapters 1-6 Summary
The novel opens on a calico cat who has been abandoned by the side of the road. To make matters worse, the cat is very pregnant and a rain storm has opened up. She wandered into the woods, far away from the road where she had been left by her family. The storm grew worse and lightning and thunder compounded its effects. Finally, the cat came upon an old tupelo tree with an abandoned nest at its base. Exhausted, the cat curled up and went to sleep.
The trees in this forest had been there for a long time; some of them for hundreds of years. At the opposite end of the forest from where the cat was sleeping was a loblolly pine that had been split in half by another lightning storm. The tree was located near a creek named Little Sorrowful. The lightning storm that severed the loblolly pine had come twenty-five years ago from the Gulf of Mexico, gaining steam from the Sabine River, which separates Louisiana from Texas. When it struck the thousand-year-old tree, the base remained standing despite losing its upper half.
When the storm struck the tree, it also had another impact deep beneath the earth. In the ground below the loblolly tree was a clay jar that had been buried a thousand years before. Inside of the jar was a mysterious creature that had been asleep for centuries. The lightning’s reverberations loosened the roots of the tree that had formerly held the jar in place. Twenty-five years ago, during that huge storm, the creature began to wake, knowing it would one day make its return.
The next morning, the cat awoke to the sound of a hound baying. The baying came in the form of a song, which told of the hound’s loneliness and captivity. After listening to the lament, she began to follow the sound of the dog’s voice.
The cat followed the song deep into the woods until she arrived at dilapidated, tilting house with an ancient, rusty truck parked outside. The hound dog was chained to the porch; he continued his doleful song. The cat knew she should be cautious as cats and dogs were usually enemies, but the song stirred not only her, but also the baby kittens in her pregnant belly. As she approached the dog, she felt like she knew the response to his song.
On the night of the storm twenty-five years ago, a mean young boy set out into the woods. His father had been a bad man who drank, caroused, and mistreated the boy and his mother. His mother left, and the father continued to beat the...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapters 7-12 Summary
The dog, whose name was Ranger, was surprised by the cat. He had seen others in the woods, but it was his job to scare them off. His chain was twenty feet long and allowed him to keep other animals at a distance. This cat, however, was not afraid of him; in fact, she nuzzled him and licked his ears as if she understood that he had been lonely.
The woods were a swampy and dangerous place in East Texas. There was mud and water everywhere, and the forest was filled with all kinds of snakes; plenty of them were poisonous, but even those that weren’t could still bite. The swamp also had crawdads, bullfrogs and ancient turtles; however, the most fearsome creatures in these swampy marshes were the alligators. The most ferocious alligators came from Bayou Tartine, which was near Little Sorrowful creek. Bayou Tartine had a sister Bayou, Petite Tartine, and the land in between was the most dangerous part of the woods.
The Gar Face was on his boat returning home after a day of hunting. He hunted virtually every living thing in the forest, but most of them provided little challenge or enjoyment for him. The one exception was the alligator; Gar Face liked hunting alligators because they lacked the fear that other animals displayed. On the way home, he thought he saw a giant animal in the distance. By the time he focused, whatever it was had gone underwater, but Gar Face noticed the beast (which he believed was an alligator) seemed to be at least a hundred feet in length. He vowed then and there that he would hunt it.
Ranger tried to warn the cat about Gar Face so she would leave, but she had nowhere else to go. Gar Face’s porch was covered with the pelts of animals he had shot. Ranger remembered one night when he had been hunting with Gar Face. When Ranger sensed something amiss during the hunt, his movement caught Gar Face’s eye and he shot him. Gar Face did not apologize and made the dog limp home. The bullet was still in his leg and now Gar Face kept him chained to the house. If the cat was to stay, she would have to remain in The Underneath, the open area below the house, so that Gar Face wouldn’t find her.
The one-hundred-foot alligator had been in the swamp for a long time—more than a thousand years. It knew every corner of the forest and was a swift and deadly predator. The Alligator King, as he was known, knew the creature buried beneath the tree (called Grandmother) would soon be set free....
(The entire section is 541 words.)
Chapters 13-18 Summary
Across the forest, the old tree that had been struck by lightning was losing more and more branches. With each lost branch, the creature in the pot beneath the tree stirred more and more. The creature was known as Grandmother, and the entire forest reverberated with her impending arrival.
Grandmother was a creature known as lamia, and she was very, very old; much older than anything else in the forest. She had lived for tens of thousands of years and traveled waterways all over the world. She was a giant Moccasin, and she loved hunting. She hunted bugs, reptiles, small animals and all kinds of other creatures. She used the shade of the trees to hide from her prey. She finally settled in the bayou near the Sabine. The bayou was full of thousands of other snakes, and they all recognized her presence. When she arrived, they all hissed, “Sister.”
The Alligator King was in the Bayou Tartine, floating in the water and waiting for more food. He had already picked off a whole community of turtles, but was still hungry. In fact, the Alligator King was always hungry. Even though he subsisted mostly on fish and other water creatures, his favorite food lived on the land; to him, they tasted much better.
In the Underneath of Gar Face’s house, the kittens began to grow and it occurred to Ranger that they should name them. The boy and the girl had been almost identical when they were born, except for the boy’s crescent-moon birthmark; however, now the boy’s coat was darker. Ranger suggested they name the girl Sabine, after the river, and the calico thought it was a beautiful name. For the boy, he suggested Possum because of his dark coat, and Sabine laughed and laughed. The calico finally settled on Puck, which he liked much better.
The trees of the forest had their own language and soon announced the names of the new kittens: Puck and Sabine. The news carried throughout the forest, eventually arriving at the broken-down pine with the Grandmother’s jar beneath it. Grandmother Moccasin heard the names and was particularly interested in Sabine. Grandmother had once had a daughter of her own who was taken from her while she was sleeping. She still craved revenge.
Puck and Sabine knew to stay in the Underneath at all times, even though they had never seen Gar Face; to them, he was just a serious of noises from the floorboards overhead. Gar Face didn’t always feed Ranger, but when he did,...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Chapters 19-24 Summary
The trees remembered everything from their long history, and the loblolly pine (what was left of it) could recall all the different animals it had housed over the years. Even now, when its branches had mostly fallen and insects had rendered it soft, it still housed something.
Grandmother moccasin was an enchanted creature, a lamia. She was half human and half snake, and she had been around for thousands of years. She had been a companion of the Alligator King, and they called each other Sister and Brother. They used to hunt for each other and share their prey. Still, Grandmother longed for one of her own kind. Many, many years ago, she had shed her reptile skin and become human. She had fallen deeply in love with a man who later betrayed her and had an affair. Angry and disillusioned, she turned back into snake, even though she knew that once a lamia returned to its animal form, it could never again be human. Since then, she swam around the world with her fellow serpents. She also remembered a man with copper-colored feathers in his hair who had stolen her daughter many years ago. She would soon have revenge.
Twenty-five years ago, when Gar Face first entered the woods, he had walked a long way—all the way from Houston. He was starving, exhausted and angry. He drank swamp water, and nibbled on grass and bugs, but it wasn’t enough. He had wasted bullets trying to hunt, but he wasn’t a good enough shot. Eventually, he came across a deer and shot it. The deer took off through the woods and Gar Face ran after it, knowing he would starve to death if he did not eat this deer. After much chasing, Gar Face tripped and fell. He heard a sound of breathing and saw the deer on its side nearby. With his knife, he killed the deer so he could have it for food. Underground nearby, Grandmother stirred.
The kittens grew and could no longer feed on just the calico’s milk. Now, in addition to hunting for herself, the calico also hunted for the kittens. Her coloring made it easy to hide, but she still had to be careful of Gar Face. It occurred to the calico that her kittens would soon have to go out hunting on their own, and she worried about the variety of predators that might snap them up.
The kittens played many games together in the Underneath. Sabine was fond of sneaking up on Puck while pretending to be a large jungle cat. Puck in turn would hide in an old shoe, the darkest, smelliest place in the...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Chapters 25-30 Summary
Grandmother did not know where she or her daughter came from, only that they had descended from other enchanted creatures like mermaids, minotaurs, and ondines. Grandmother named her daughter Night Song because of her beautiful voice. This gift was rare for snakes, but since lamia were connected to creatures like Sirens, Night Song’s voice was spellbinding. Her voice filled the forest and all of the trees. Now, rattling around in her clay jar, Grandmother longed to break free. In the present day, the Alligator King didn’t know where Grandmother was, but he was sure she would soon return.
The woods were so deep and remote that few humans were familiar with them. A few trappers knew their layout, as did Gar Face who had lived there. There was a remote road leading through the forest to a bar that looked abandoned. It was old, and had no electricity, so its insides were dimly lit by kerosene lamps. Trappers and hunters like Gar Face could exchange animal skins for liquor. As Gar Face sat there, he was aware of his isolation from the men telling stories of their hunts and making jokes at Gar Face’s expense. Gar Face continued to picture the Alligator King, and the glory it would bring him at the bar.
Ranger began to think of himself as Puck and Sabine’s father, even though he was a hound dog. He loved spending time with them and was always concerned with keeping them safely ensconced in The Underneath. Sometimes, he would sing songs, lullabies, just for them.
The calico cat followed through on her resolve to teach the kittens how to hunt. She would bring small animals home that were still alive and allow the kittens to hunt them.
There were all kinds of snakes in the swampy woods, ones of different sizes, colors and temperaments. The most dangerous of these was the moccasin. Unlike other snakes, that struck and recoiled, the moccasin would attach itself permanently to its victim and keep a hold on it.
The kittens learned to stay away from Gar Face and his gun. One morning, Gar Face picked off a rat as it scurried across his front yard. Rules were important to the kittens living in the Underneath.
(The entire section is 378 words.)
Chapters 31-36 Summary
One morning, Puck awoke while the other three—Sabine, Ranger, and his mother—slept on. From the Underneath, he could see the Open and, like all kittens, he was curious. He went to the edge of the Underneath and looked out; the Open didn’t seem so scary despite Ranger and his mother’s constant warnings. After checking to see if Sabine would join him (she remained asleep), Puck ran out of the Underneath into the open. The sun felt great and he rolled around happily on the ground. He was about to run back to the Underneath to tell Sabine when he ran right into Gar Face.
The calico awoke and immediately knew something was wrong. She heard Puck cry and ran to the edge of the Underneath in time to see Gar Face pick up the kitten. She instinctively ran after him, and he stuffed both of them into a burlap bag and threw the bag into the back of the truck. Ranger cried helplessly behind them, still chained to the house. The calico and her kitten rode for a while and then the truck stopped; the calico was sure they were near water.
Inside the bag, Puck tried to apologize to his mother for disobeying the rules. She would not hear of it; she blamed herself for bringing her children into the world in such a dangerous house. She asked Puck to make her a promise. If anything should happen to her, she wanted him to go back to Gar Face’s house to help his sister escape. She also made him promise to get Ranger free from his chain. Puck agreed.
Suddenly, the bag was picked up and tossed into the water. Despite the panic of the incoming water, the calico swam and urged her son to keep swimming as well. Fortunately, the burlap bag came open and he kept swimming upward. He was so busy swimming that he didn’t see his mother become entangled with the burlap bag, unable to free herself and get to the surface.
Water began to fill the calico mother’s lungs as Puck swam to the surface above her. She felt panicked until she heard a calm, soothing voice calling her, “Sister.” The hummingbird sat in a tree above her and reassured her that Puck would be safe. She felt guilty about leaving her children and Ranger behind, but eventually let go. In the distance, Gar Face drove his beat-up truck back into the woods, laughing evilly as he went.
The trees had long known of the hummingbird’s reputation as a creature that could pass between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The hummingbird...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
Chapters 37-42 Summary
Years ago, an ancient Native American people named the Caddo had lived in this area. They had a village near Little Sorrowful Creek by the now-crumbling loblolly pine. They learned the animals and plants of the area, and made a life for themselves. The trees and other wildlife could still remember them. Little Sorrowful sprang from a deep well. At this moment, Puck sat by the waterside weeping. He looked back at the water and only saw a hummingbird hovering over the place where they had been thrown to the ocean floor.
Back at Gar Face’s house, Ranger waited anxiously. His neck hurt from straining against the chain. He had also barked himself hoarse. When Gar Face returned, he pulled Ranger out from the Underneath by his chain. Gar Face then kicked the beast with his steel-toed boots. Gar Face blamed Ranger for not keeping the cats away. Ranger looked back at Sabine asleep in the Underneath and missed his calico companion and her rambunctious kitten.
Sabine waited and kept expecting her mother and brother to return home to the Underneath. She could almost picture her mother bringing home some kind of game from the woods. It occurred to Sabine that in order for her (and for Ranger) to stay alive, she would have to hunt just as the calico had. Long related to distinguished cats of the wild, Sabine had an innate instinct for the hunt.
Grandmother Moccasin did not speak the language of the trees, so she did not know about the Hawk Man. Long ago, he lived high in a tree alongside the creek. The Hawk Man was a listener: he heard the sounds of the birds, the sounds of the forest, and those of the Caddo, who lived along the creek further up. One quiet night, the copper-feathered Hawk Man heard a beautiful song that reverberated through his whole body; it came from the dangerous, snake-filled part of the woods where the Caddo did not go. Grandmother Moccasin had no idea.
Puck was listening and all he could hear was loss; he was devastated by his mother’s drowning. The loss’s vibrations shook Grandmother’s jar; she had felt countless losses over the years.
A thousand years ago, the Hawk Man was entranced by the song he heard: it was Night Song’s lullaby. He flew into the dangerous part of the forest, despite the protestations of the other birds. He thought Night Song was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapters 43-48 Summary
Night Song’s lullaby was full of happiness, because as she grew, she and Grandmother made each other very happy. Grandmother entertained Night Song with tales of her travels around the world, which Night Song found exciting. Grandmother was careful not to tell her the story of her love who left her for another. As Night Song grew, however, she started to become restless. Grandmother’s stories still entertained her, but they made her want to go out into the world for adventures of her own. During Grandmother’s nap, she started to sneak away to explore the forest on her own. It was during one of these secret trips that she ran into the Hawk Man. Thinking back on it a thousand years later, Grandmother thought of it as one more of a long series of betrayals.
The Hawk Man and Night Song had been instantly attracted. Even though Night Song felt connected to Grandmother, she also felt a strong pull to the Hawk Man; both were enchanted creatures like mermaids, dyads and ondines. As they came together, Night Song shed her snake skin and became a woman; Hawk Man in turn transformed into a handsome young man. Night Song knew Grandmother would be upset, but her love for Hawk Man was so pure and strong, she could not resist it. The trees recognized the purity of their love and decide to help. Using ancient magic, they kept everyone in the forest asleep as the newly human Hawk Man and Night Song made their escape.
Puck stood on the riverbank, feeling muddy, wet, and cold. He looked up and down the creek for his mother and suddenly realized she wasn’t there. The finality of her death began to sink in and he felt very sad; he believed it was his fault for breaking the rules and leaving the Underneath. He listened for Ranger’s bark, but heard nothing. Nearby was a broken-down tree with a small opening at the base. Looking for shelter, Puck crawled into the hole at the base of the tree and curled up. Just beneath him, Grandmother slept curled up in her jar; two very different creatures had both lost someone they loved.
After Night Song’s departure, Grandmother was consumed by darkness and hatred. Her appetite became voracious and her hunting even more vicious. Even the Alligator King could see poisonous effect that the need for revenge had on Grandmother.
Gar Face had found his house a long time ago, when he was younger and when Ranger had not yet been shot in the leg. The house had been abandoned...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Chapters 49-54 Summary
Puck was miserable. He was still thinking about his mother and he had not eaten in a day. His fur was matted with mud and he was starving. He also knew that he had to fulfill his promise to his mother to look after Ranger and Sabine, but his appetite was all he could think about right now. He tried to clean himself up, but only succeed in pulling clumps of his fur out. He cried, and his crying led to hiccups; these hiccups would make it difficult to hunt for prey because good hunting was about keeping quiet. He wished he had paid closer attention when his mother was teaching him and Sabine how to hunt.
When Hawk Man and Night Song became human, they were unsure of what to do. Human life and human bodies were new to them, so they walked and walked seeking out other people for companionship. Eventually, they found their way to the village of the Caddo. The Caddo were a welcoming people and were overjoyed to have Night Song and Hawk Man join their community. Soon, Night Song and Hawk Man had built a hut and were part of the Caddo village.
Hawk Man and Night Song soon made a family of their own. They welcomed a little girl, and becoming a father changed Hawk Man forever. His love for his daughter was totally different from that which he felt for his wife, and he gazed at his little girl endlessly. Once she reached up and grabbed his chin, and he was sure she was trying to tell him something.
Night Song also bonded with her daughter, covering her with kisses whenever she could. At night, Night Song practiced the craft of the Caddo people: pottery. It had been new to her when she first arrived in the village, but now she was an expert at crafting bowls and jars of all sizes. One of her specialties was funerary jars for the dead to take their belongings with them. She etched a hummingbird into these jars because of the hummingbird’s ability to pass between the lands of the living and the dead. The jar that held Grandmother Moccasin, however, did not have a hummingbird on it.
Sabine longed to be free of Gar Face’s house; she only remained because she had to help Ranger. Sabine frequently gazed out at the woods and saw what she believed were the eyes of other animals. Some believed the woods were full of haints or ghosts, but Sabine did not worry about them. She wanted to know the other animals and take Ranger far, far away.
Gar Face was obsessed with the Alligator King. He longed to...
(The entire section is 556 words.)
Chapters 55-60 Summary
Recalling his mother’s warnings to stay in the Underneath, Puck remained secluded in his makeshift den at the base of the tree. He saw the warm sunlight, but worried it was dangerous—the last time he went into the sunlight, Gar Face captured him. The problem was, Puck was very hungry and could not wait until dark to eat. He was angry and found himself hissing “Ssssst” in anger; he wasn’t sure where the angry sound had come from. In addition, he knew he had to get to work on his promise to find Sabine and rescue Ranger. Reluctantly, he crept outside and looked at Little Sorrowful creek. Somehow, he seemed to know that the water was the key to finding them. Under the ground, Grandmother roiled again.
Grandmother Moccasin had waited ten long years for Night Song to return. On the tenth anniversary of her departure, she decided to go after her. The Alligator King warned her that her plan was dangerous. He also told her that she needed to tell her daughter that changing back into a snake would be her last transformation; she would never be human again. Before she left to look for her, Alligator King made her promise to tell her daughter first; Grandmother relented, but her promise’s sincerity was dubious.
Puck’s hunting expedition had been largely unsuccessful; he had only managed to eat two crickets. At one point, he stopped in the woods to sit in the sun. When a shadow passed overhead, he moved to another spot. Puck realized with horror that the shadow was that of a bird who was swooping down at him. Puck ran quickly back to his den in the base of the tree and the bird landed just outside and peered in. When Puck emitted an ear-splitting scream, the bird flew away; Puck was still scared to come outside in case the bird was laying in wait. Finally, he went out and saw that the bird had left a dead mouse it had caught by accident. Puck pounced on it to practice his hunting and killing skills, then dragged the mouse into the den and ate every last bite. From high atop a tree, a bird watched everything.
In the Caddo village, Hawk Man’s gift for listening made him one of the elders. Night Song became renowned for her wordless singing and her pottery. As her daughter’s tenth birthday approached, Night Song decided to make a special jar for her. The jar would be for the gathering and storage of food and water. Night Song shaped the clay, carved one hundred crescent moons around the jar and let it dry in...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
Chapters 61-66 Summary
As Sabine slept, Ranger longed to go hunt. He came from a long line of expert hound dogs and he had hunted well with Gar Face, even helping him catch a bear. The only time Ranger had failed at his hounding was the day Gar Face had shot him for letting the bobcat go. Ranger had the Bobcat cornered, but paused because he realized she was carrying kittens; the bobcat got away, Gar Face shot Ranger’s leg and chained him to the house. Ranger had never been the same, and now he longed for the calico and young Puck.
Ranger had gotten shot because he stepped between Gar Face and the bobcat. As it escaped, the bobcat slashed Gar Face’s leg. Gar Face chained up Ranger because the bobcat incident had reinforced something Gar Face had always believed: that you cannot trust anyone else.
A thousand years ago, the thought of finding Night Song propelled Grandmother ever closer to the Caddo village. Meanwhile, Night Song gave her daughter her birthday present and the young girl loved the jar, which was almost as big as she was. Suddenly, she asked about Grandmother Moccasin. She had only heard small tidbits about her, and wanted to know more when she saw the design on the jar. Night Song told her that Grandmother Moccasin lived across the creek in the swampy part of the forest. Night Song said that no one knew the forest better, and Grandmother could help the young girl when she needed it.
When Grandmother arrived at the edge of the water, she saw Night Song on the other side. Filled with rage, she longed to swim across the creek and drag Night Song into the water; however, she knew Night Song had to come willingly or she would simply drown. Then Grandmother saw Hawk Man and young girl. She was Night Song’s daughter, and Grandmother realized she had the enchantment of her parents. Grandmother knew the young girl was another obstacle preventing Night Song from becoming a snake. Grandmother decided to ignore her promise to Alligator King about telling Night Song the rules of the lamia.
Puck quickly developed a routine: he would alternately hunt and nap during the day, and then sleep in the broken tree at night. One night, however, he awoke to the bright light of the moon. It was crescent-shaped, just like his birthmark, which glowed unbeknownst to him. He looked across the creek and saw a family of possums. Watching the mother tend for her little ones made Puck miss his own mother. Elsewhere in the forest,...
(The entire section is 551 words.)
Chapters 67-72 Summary
Puck began to think of the dying tree as his and the tree felt the same way in return. The tree knew that Puck needed to cross the stream, but Puck did not hear the language of the trees. He did not know they warned him about the Bayou Tartine and the Petite Tartine. All he could think about was that needed to get to Sabine and Ranger.
The trees had also tried to warn the Hawk Man long ago. He had awoken to find his wife gone and went to search for her by the water. He walked up and down the banks and even waded into the water. He could not believe she would venture across to the Bayou territory, which was full of dangers; its quicksands had once swallowed a whole bison. Night Song cried out, but Hawk Man could not hear her because she had returned to her serpent form. The Alligator King confronted Grandmother about betraying her own daughter, but she only cared that she had Night Song back.
Night Song and Hawk Man’s daughter woke up to the sound of her father’s voice. She could not hear what he was saying at first because the air was full of the sounds of agitated birds’ wings. She eventually realized that he was calling for her mother and headed out towards the water; she carried her new jar with her. After some fruitless searching, she saw her mother’s footsteps headed into the stream; she now called out for her father.
At first, Hawk Man thought the cries he heard were those of his wife; the concerned flapping of his bird friends made it hard to discern. He eventually realized it was his daughter, and that he had left her alone in the house. He ran to her and scooped her up in his arms holding her tightly. When he set her down, she led him to her mother’s tracks heading into the water. He screamed in horror when he realized the footprints were accompanied by snake tracks.
Cats were among the oldest creatures in the forest. Sabine descended from many proud lines of cats including the saber toothed tiger. She continued to hunt proficiently, using the stealth her mother had taught her. Her hunting kept Ranger and her alive, but did not satisfy the emptiness left by her mother and Puck. She knew she had to get them out of there.
Hawk Man stood beside the water for a long time, hoping he was misreading the tracks and prints in the mud. His daughter knew he was sad (as was she), but didn’t know how to help him. He embraced her, and she grabbed his chin as she had since she...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
Chapters 73-78 Summary
Later that evening, Hawk Man’s daughter waited until he fell asleep. Then, she took her giant jar to the edge of the water and followed her mother’s footsteps into the cold, fast-moving water. She turned on her back and allowed the strong current to carry her to the other side. The trees tried to warn her, but she could not hear them; she believed her Grandmother could help her.
Gar Face was becoming more and more fixated on the Alligator King. He trolled the waters hoping for a sign of him, but was only fleetingly greeted by bubbles from the great beast. Gar Face knew the creature was playing a game with him. He bitterly reflected how the other patrons of the bar had shunned him and laughed at him. He knew that capturing the Alligator King would show them how much they had misjudged him.
As Hawk Man slept, he knew his cries had been in vain. Somehow, his wife had not known the rule about shape shifting; she was a snake again, and could never return to human form. He dreamed of flying and found that he missed the sensation of soaring above the trees. Even in his dream, however, he knew that Night Song had brought him to the earth and the joy of her company far surpassed that of flying. He also knew an even greater joy: his daughter.
The Alligator King knew that Gar Face was after him. The great reptile enjoyed toying with Gar Face, even though such toying was dangerous. In the old days, some people from the village had come after him, but got caught in the quicksand. He could not rescue them, which was a shame because he would have enjoyed eating them. He knew Gar Face would not be as careless, but he would still make some kind of mistake. The Alligator King was sure of it.
Puck still waited for a sign from Ranger, but he did not hear his voice anywhere. He was haunted by his promise to his mother and could not remain content with the accomplishments of finding shelter and food for himself. He once again saw the bird circling overhead and retreated to his den.
While Hawk Man remained in a sleep he could not shake, Night Song suffered for her decision. As soon as she realized she would be a snake forever, Night Song withdrew into a deep depression. She curled up on the branch of a tree and refused to eat, drink or sing. Her black scales eventually began to fade despite Grandmother’s entreaties. As she was fading away, her daughter was lost in the forest looking for her....
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapters 79-84 Summary
Hawk Man’s daughter had floated further down the creek by the time she got to the other side. The land looked and felt different to her from the side where her village was. She concentrated on remembering what her mother had told her about finding Grandmother Moccasin. She needed to go deep into the woods until her footsteps had puddles in them; when she reached the cypresses, she would find Grandmother Moccasin.
A thousand years later, Puck also looked at the foreign land across the river. He knew that he would have to find a way across soon; he was running out of time.
Grandmother became enraged after Night Song disappeared. She hunted mercilessly in a cloud of anger and hatred. She hated Hawk Man and his family for taking Night Song away from her. Then, it occurred to her that Night Song had a daughter. She vowed to have the daughter to take Night Song’s place. The Alligator King was dubious that the girl was a shape shifter like Night Song, but Grandmother paid him no heed. Unaware that the girl was searching forest for her, she slithered out to the bank of the creek. She did not see the girl, but noticed a large ornate jar.
The birds watched over Hawk Man, who slept for several days. Even in his slumber, he could hear them urging him to return to the bird world; however, the thought of leaving his human daughter alone meant that choice was not possible. When he finally awoke, he looked around, disoriented and unsure of how long he had been unconscious. He saw that his daughter was missing and ran to the edge of the water where he found the jar Night Song had made for her.
Puck’s promise to his mother both haunted and taunted him, and he knew he had to find a way across the water. One day, he saw a straw branch floating by with several turtles on it. Periodically, it would bump one side of the creek and then the other. He realized that if he could get on the branch, it might carry him to the other side. Puck jumped on, but the branch spun, sending him underwater. He was in the shallow bed of the creek so he was able to walk back to the shore as the branch floated away. He looked up and saw the hummingbird.
On the same bank where Puck ambled back to his den, the Grandmother had found her daughter’s jar long ago. She circled it, admired its artwork, and saw her daughter’s hands in its every detail. She wanted to destroy it but was grabbed suddenly by the Hawk Man. He...
(The entire section is 555 words.)
Chapters 85-90 Summary
The taunting of the Alligator King began to eat away at Gar Face. He would sit on his pirogue drinking vodka and waiting for the beast that he knew was laughing at him. One night, he felt something bump at the bottom of the boat and knew it was the Alligator King. As the boat lurched, Gar Face lost his staff and had no way to guide his boat back to land. He knew if he stepped in the water, the Alligator would attack. The boat began to lurch and spin with more bumping from underneath. Eventually, it bumped up against the shore. Dizzy from the spinning and the drink, Gar Face staggered onto the land and passed out in the sand.
Sabine and Ranger knew something was wrong when Gar Face didn’t return the next morning. As much as they hated the sight of him, they relied on his periodic food deliveries to keep Ranger going. If he didn’t come back, Ranger would die of starvation, even with the small animals that Sabine brought for him. They waited, unsure of what to do next.
Puck still tried to figure out how he could get across the water. He wondered again why Ranger hadn’t called out for him and assumed something bad must have happened. Hearing a sound from above, Puck looked up and saw a squirrel in the tree high above him. The squirrel navigated a series of branches from tree to tree and eventually ended up on the other side of the creek. Puck resolved to do the same thing. Beneath the earth, Grandmother Moccasin roiled.
Gar Face awoke on the shore covered in mosquito bites and sunburns. He trudged home as the Alligator King slept at the bottom of the creek. He saw something scurry under the house and lamented his dog’s inability to catch mice. He gave the wounded old dog some meager dog food and loped into the house. It occurred to him that the scurrying animal was a cat, not a rat, and he immediately thought it would make excellent bait for the Alligator King.
Sabine was relieved that Gar Face came home and fed Ranger; she rested, oblivious to the impending danger. Meanwhile, Grandmother Moccasin waited in her jar; she knew nothing of the world after the point when Hawk Man stuffed her into the jar.
After he buried Grandmother in the jar, Hawk Man lay ill on the waterbed, refusing to change into a bird. His bird friends knew this was the only thing that could save him, but he refused to leave his daughter alone and awaited her return. The Caddo people and the birds kept watch...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
Chapters 91-96 Summary
The young girl, the daughter of Hawk Man and Night Song, wandered hopelessly through the forest. She grew weary, but tried to listen to the sounds of the forest. Through means she could not explain, she knew that she would never see her mother again. Soon, she was surrounded by birds, flapping their wings and speaking to her. Feathers began to sprout all over her body and she soared up into the sky as a bird. Grandmother remained alone in her jar.
Gar Face now knew about Sabine and he peered out his window and saw her run into the woods to hunt. His skin still burned from the sun and the mosquito bites, but inwardly his biggest pain was knowing the Alligator King was still out there, waiting. Gar Face vowed to stay off the water, where the gator would have the advantage. Out on the porch, Gar Face saw a rainbow-colored fluttering in the distance. It was a hummingbird. Gar Face put his sights on the bird and shot at it. When he looked up the bird was gone—either shot dead or flown away. In the Underneath, Sabine trembled at the sound of the gun shot.
Puck attempted to navigate the tree branches in the same manner that the squirrels had. The problem was that when he got to the narrow ends of the branches, they would bounce and bow. He tried moving slowly and then quickly and both times he stopped short, fearing the bouncing of the branch. He was just about to jump laterally to try another branch when a shot rang out.
The Alligator King had not seen Gar Face in several days. He was surprised, but expected the man would come back eventually. At the surface of the water, he looked around and sensed that a rain was coming. He sank back down to the bottom of the water and waited.
The trees knew that the storm was coming even before the Alligator King. Trees were always the first to know. The storm that was coming had originated in Africa, traveled across the Atlantic and into the Gulf Mexico. Soon, it would head up the Sabine to the forest. The trees knew that the storm was going to be very strong and dangerous.
Despite already having started drinking, Gar Face decided to head to the bar. It was dark out, and he wanted to listen to the men tell their stories, knowing that one day soon he would have a story of his own. His truck did not start easily, but eventually turned over; he drove away. The sound of his departure was a relief to Sabine. She had noticed that Gar Face had spent more time at...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Chapters 97-102 Summary
The gunshot had startled Puck, and he fell from the branch. He struck several other limbs on his way down and landed with a thud on the red muddy shore. The wind was completely knocked out of him and he ached all over. He knew he had not yet fulfilled his promise to his mother and her voice echoed in his head. Wracked with pain, he fainted on the shore.
Sabine’s attempts to hunt had yielded little. She brought home a solitary lizard for Ranger with her stomach still growling. The rain had started, and most of the animals had sought shelter. At the bar, Gar Face listened to the men talk, hoping to hear a story of an alligator. He did not notice the rain that began pounding; he could only think of his abandoned birth name and his new name, which everyone would soon know. As the storm gathered, Grandmother writhed in her pot; her time was coming.
Gar Face eventually tired of hearing the men talk. He paid with a few animal skins and left; however, instead of returning home, he drove out into an open meadow. He thought of this place as Victory Meadow, because it was where he had killed the deer so many years ago. No one knew about the deer, but everyone would know about the Alligator King. He sat in his truck and drank while the rain continued to pour.
Puck awoke on the shore still dazed from his fall. He was significantly scratched up and in a lot of pain. Lightning began to crack all around him and soon the rain was pouring down. He scurried for the safety of his tree, but his promise still haunted him. The tide began to rise; deep below Grandmother renewed her promise to get the daughter of Night Song.
The next morning, Sabine awoke to hear Gar Face’s truck pull in. He clomped inside and soon returned with a bowl of food for Ranger; she was relieved. When she heard Gar Face slam the door on his way back in, she crept out and shared Ranger’s food. Little did she know, Gar Face stared at her from the porch thinking about what fine bait she would make for the Alligator King.
After their meal, Ranger relaxed in the rain and Sabine busied herself with a tongue bath. She had a false sense of security and soon became absorbed in her task. She did not see Gar Face sneak up on her; he soon grabbed her around the throat, anxious to set her out to lure the Alligator King.
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapters 103-108 Summary
When Gar Face grabbed Sabine, he had also caught Ranger off guard. When Ranger realized what was happening, he snarled at Gar Face. The man was caught by surprise and as he turned toward Ranger, the dog jumped on him. Gar Face dropped Sabine, who ran and hid in the bushes. Ranger bit Gar Face in the leg; the man swore and ran inside. Ranger lifted up his head and let loose a series of howls.
Beside the creek, Puck had started to recover. He saw the tide rising and felt hopeless about getting across the water. Suddenly, he heard a strange sound in the distance. He realized that it was Ranger, whose voice he had been waiting for. It came from across the river, as Puck had suspected. He knew he had to find a way to get to them.
Gar Face was angry. He came out of the house with his leg wound crudely wrapped. He pulled the dog out from under the house by his chain; then, he picked up a stray board and struck Ranger in the head. Sabine felt helpless watching from the bushes. Gar Face undid Ranger’s chain and began to drag him to the water; he would now use Ranger as bait for the Alligator King. Weakened and coughing up blood, Ranger slowly followed him, hoping that Sabine had escaped. He did not know that she followed them from the brush.
The old loblolly pine knew that Puck needed help. Since the rain had drenched the earth, it was now loose beneath the pine. Mustering all its power, the pine shook back and forth and finally tipped over. As it fell, Puck ran out from under its path. He did not notice the large jar unearthed when the tree’s roots pulled up. The jar broke, and Grandmother Moccasin slid out, shedding her thousand-year-old skin. She took no note of the cat.
When Puck outran the falling tree, he realized he was getting further away from Ranger’s howls. He turned around and ran back toward the tree, feeling hopeless about his inability to cross the ever-widening creek. When he reached the bank of the creek, he stopped abruptly; the tree had fallen across the water and made a bridge for Puck.
Grandmother Moccasin quickly made her way to the other side of the creek, through the forest, to the Bayou area. She climbed a tree and looked down in the water. Her old, old friend, the Alligator King, rose to the surface and greeted her. Grandmother wanted to know where her granddaughter was, but before he could answer, the Alligator King realized that Gar Face was nearby. The great...
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Chapters 109-116 Summary
Puck wasn’t sure about crossing. The creek was wild and dangerous with fast-moving rapids and swirling eddies. He made his way slowly across the fallen tree. Every voice in his head told him to go back, but he knew he had to go forward. The tree moved and swerved; Puck just made it across the water when the tree split apart and fell into the watery rapids.
Puck hadn’t been that far from Gar Face’s tilted house: just a little over two miles. He traveled in the direction Ranger’s cries had come from. When he arrived at the house, he stayed hidden in the bushes at first. Stealthily, he snuck across the yard into the Underneath. He called for Sabine, but there was no answer. Back in the yard, Puck found blood. It left behind a trail, so Puck began to follow it.
Gar Face had to stop regularly to let his bloodied, wounded dog rest. Gar Face had been wounded many times by animal bites, but this had done the most damage.
Sabine followed closely behind Gar Face and Ranger, but kept her presence hidden. Up in the tree, Grandmother anxiously awaited the return of the Alligator to find out the fate of her granddaughter.
Gar Face continued to drink to try to numb the pain from Ranger’s bite. He knew it might be a long wait for the Alligator King, so he tied Ranger up and nodded off. Once Gar Face was asleep, Sabine ran up to Ranger to comfort him. She purred at him and licked him. Suddenly, Ranger heard an unusual sound: a hummingbird. High up in the tree, Grandmother Moccasin saw a man below.
Puck saw the hummingbird zipping through the woods and decided to follow it. Puck climbed a tree, but the hummingbird had disappeared. Below he saw Gar Face sleeping, Ranger on his chain, and Sabine. He wanted to run to them, but he saw that Gar Face had a rifle. He did not see Grandmother Moccasin above him.
Grandmother Moccasin was very hungry after her thousand-year incarceration. She silently crept down to the branch were Puck was watching the animals below. Meanwhile, the Alligator King smelled blood; he also smelled another scent. He knew that Gar Face was baiting him, but he rose to the surface of the water anyway.
As Grandmother Moccasin approached Puck, Gar Face awoke and saw Sabine nestled next to Ranger under his big floppy ear. He raised his gun to shoot Sabine and Puck knew he had to act. He let loose one of his screams and the Gar Face turned around and shot...
(The entire section is 505 words.)
Chapters 117-124 Summary
In the water, Gar Face’s hand released Puck, who suddenly heard his mother’s voice again, urging him to swim. He then heard Sabine’s voice from the shore saying the same thing, so he swam to the surface.
Puck came ashore, and he and Sabine embraced each other. They ran up to Ranger, and an exhausted Puck nestled under one of Ranger’s ears and began to doze off. As he did, he heard Ranger’s chain rattle.
The forest wanted to protect the cats and Ranger, all of whom fell asleep from exhaustion. To protect them, the forest once again used its old magic to make everything in the Bayou forest sleep, including Grandmother Moccasin.
In the morning, Sabine and Puck awoke and began to care for Ranger. He seemed a little better, but was still swollen and bloody. They gave him a tongue bath to help clean him up, and the dog started to stir. For a moment, Ranger thought he saw the hummingbird; then, when he realized it was Puck and Sabine, he was overjoyed. He noticed Gar Face’s rifle poking out of the water and guessed his fate. He was not happy about Gar Face being gone, but he was relieved.
Puck inspected Ranger’s chain and found several weak and Rusty spots. He knew that had to get him unchained from the tree before the Alligator came back to feed again. Puck heard a hissing sound and turned to find Grandmother Moccasin right in front of him. Sabine ran to his side.
Grandmother Moccasin knew the three were weak and tired; she also knew that the Alligator King would soon return. She could see that three were bound together by love. With the voices of the other serpents ringing in her ears, she reared up and struck.
Grandmother Moccasin swam to the only love she had left—the Alligator King. She thanked him for his friendship. When she struck, Grandmother had hit the chain that tied the dog to the tree. The chain broke, and the dog was free. Grandmother left the Alligator and found a place on a tree branch. She was in terrible pain. When Puck had jumped on Gar Face and he blindly fired his gun, the bullet had struck Grandmother Moccasin. As she sat on the branch awaiting her fate, the hummingbird approached her. The bird seemed familiar, and Grandmother realized it was her granddaughter, the daughter of Hawk Man and Night Song.
The trees remembered Sabine, Puck, and Ranger. The trio had made their way out of the forest, but their memories remained with...
(The entire section is 483 words.)