Chapter 17 Summary
Ava continues her journey through the swamp with Bird Man, still looking for her sister, Ossie. Ava senses that Bird Man is angry with her for having mentioned the dredge boat to the Park Service man, Whip Jeters. Jeters had questioned Ava to make sure she was all right. When Ava mentioned the dredge, asking Jeters if he had seen it, he had appeared a little suspicious. This concerned Bird Man.
After Jeters left, Bird Man asked Ava if she realized how much trouble she could have caused. If Jeters had forced Bird Man to turn his boat around and head back to the island on which Ava lived, Bird Man might have been charged with kidnapping a minor.
This frightens Ava and she tells Bird Man that she wants to go home. She is sensing how vulnerable she is with Bird Man, a person she barely knows. She is in the middle of the swamp in his boat and has no idea how to get home on her own. She is in territory that she has never before explored. Bird Man encourages her to be brave. They are the only ones who can find Ossie, he reminds Ava.
Ava's hopes increase when a few minutes later, she sees the two tall mounds of sea shells—relics of an ancient Indian tribe. According to local lore, the tall mounds represent the "eye" or the opening to the underworld.
The passage between the two enormous shell mounds is only about four feet wide. Bird Man's boat barely squeezes through. At one point as they are pushing their way through the narrow gap, Ava looks up and sees a ribbon snagged on some of the shells. She recognizes the ribbon as Ossie's. She almost falls out of the boat when she grabs it. For some reason she does not understand, she hides the ribbon in her pocket and does not tell Bird Man about it.
After they make their way past the mounds of shells, Ava thinks she sees someone walking through the woods not far from the water. When she calls out, Bird Man slaps her face. This stuns Ava and she becomes even more frightened of him.
Much later, Ava hears a radio. She recognizes not only the song that is playing but also the radio station. Again she calls out, and again Bird Man shouts at her to be quiet.
Ava stares at Bird Man, trying desperately to read the expressions on his face so she can determine if he is a friend or an enemy. Ava does not know if it is her fear or if she has finally understood the dire circumstances in which she has put herself. Either way, she no longer trusts Bird Man. She thinks he has been lying to her all along, but she does not know what he wants of her. Silently to herself, Ava she calls out to Ossie, realizing that she is the one who is in trouble, not Ossie.