Johnny Johnson, a black teenager. Johnny goes to Beetlecreek, West Virginia, from Pittsburgh to live with his uncle, David Diggs. His mother is severely ill and has been placed in the county home and cannot care for him. Johnny arrives too late in the year to enter school, so he lounges around his aunt and uncle’s house until school is dismissed; he then associates with the Nightriders, a group of four other black youths his age. As the story opens, a white hermit, Bill Trapp, chases the gang from his property because they are stealing apples. Johnny is trapped in a tree, but Trapp invites him down and into the house for cider. Johnny becomes friends with the old man, and they pass many interesting times together. Later, as part of his initiation into the Nightriders and as part of their retaliation against Trapp for a crime that he did not commit, Johnny burns the old man’s house to the ground.
Bill Trapp, a white recluse. Having grown up as an adopted child, along with his sister, Hilda, Trapp always has been melancholy and withdrawn. To attain the kind of respectable life that his sister always wanted for him, he worked a variety of jobs in a blacksmith shop, in a garage, and as a handyman for a traveling carnival, the Harry Simcoe Continental Show. After tiring from the rigors of the traveling show, Trapp purchased the May farm on the outskirts of Beetlecreek. He keeps to himself, venturing into town only to buy supplies and drinking heavily to ease the pain of loneliness. Trapp comes to life again after becoming friends with Johnny Johnson and his uncle, David Diggs. Trapp gives a cartload of pumpkins to the two Tolley sisters for the fall carnival, and he gives a party to which he invites the young black and white girls in order to encourage friendship between the races. At this party, one white girl, who was not invited, tears a picture from one of Trapp’s anatomy books and fabricates a story that portrays him as a child molester. This rumor turns both the black and white communities against him. Trapp collapses at the sight of his burning house.
David Diggs, a sign painter. A tall, slender man, at thirty-two years of age he is frustrated, having dropped out of college to marry a young woman whom he had gotten pregnant while on a visit to Beetlecreek in pursuit of Edith Johnson (who...
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