Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Old Man. There are two convicts. One is tall, lean, about twenty-five, with long Indian-black hair, who is serving prison time for a botched train robbery. The second convict is short, plump, and almost hairless, like something exposed when one turns over a rock or a log. The second convict is serving 139 years for his participation in a gas station robbery in which the attendant was killed, although probably not by the second convict. Both convicts are doing time at the Mississippi State penal farm, which runs along the Mississippi. The river is flooding over its banks, forcing the evacuation of the prisoners.
The convicts are moved by truck, train, and boat, and everywhere they are surrounded by National Guard troops and by the muddy water of the rising river. The two convicts are provided with a skiff and told to pick up stranded farmers and their families. The short convict returns to the staging area alone and reports to the authorities that the boat overturned and that the tall convict disappeared beneath the water. The warden decides to list the tall convict as missing and presumed dead while trying to save lives; the tall convict served his time.
The tall convict in fact resurfaces. He manages to scramble back into the skiff but is unable to control it. He drifts for some time before he encounters a pregnant woman sitting in a tree. He tries to paddle upstream with her but at night they are swept downstream. They meet others...
(The entire section is 1489 words.)
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