The air was crisp and expectant. The storm had swept away the clouds, and the
sun was shining, a brisk, chill breeze blowing off the water, summer's warmth
gone for good. Sodden leaves from the alders and maples scattered over
the grass, gold and orange and brown. Fallen branches lay cracked and
splintered all about. I stepped through the clutter on the narrow porch,
beaten old chairs and piles of nets and an old pair of long oystering
tongs, and went down the stairs to the yard.
I was at the river before I realized I was heading toward it. I stared down into the churning water, the long grass of the bank trailing in its eddies, the currents at the shore lapping more roughly with the stirring up of the storm and the added rain. Usually I could see to the bottom here at the shore, but not this morning; it was murky and mysterious today.
It was then I heard the noise that had me glancing toward the mouth of the river where it plunged into Shoalwater Bay. There, only a few yards away, stood a great blue heron, ruffling its feathersthe sound I'd heard. I'd never been so close to one before, and I froze, catching my breath in surprise. The two of us stared at each other, his dark eye and long yellow beak, the shaggy feathered tuft of his chest. For long moments I didn't move, but then, suddenly, he lifted his dark wings. I was so close the air they stirred pulsed against my skin. I watched him fly off toward the bay, and it was a moment before I dropped my gaze again, before I noticed the strangeness of where he'd been standing.
The bank had fallen away. This was not uncommon; the river was constantly eroding the banks. But this cut was largeat least three feet of the shore had fallen into the river, and it looked odd, cleanly shored, as if the chunk had been cut away in one swipe of a knife, not bits and pieces falling and crumbling the way it usually did. I picked up the hem of my skirtalready sodden from the wet grass, as were my bootsand stepped down to see. The sheared clay bank did not look like clay, but something strange. Beneath a thin layer of clay was something mottled, discolored, with light and dark striations. Hesitantly, I scraped it with my gloved finger. It didn't give at all when I pressed it.
It was narrowly ridged, nothing natural. Something was buried here, and I was on my knees in the mud before I knew it, heedless of my skirts or the river, scraping at it gingerly at first, and then, as my excitement grew, scrabbling like an animal. I could not get at it quickly enough. I bent to dig around it, but there was no around. When I scraped away, there was more, and more, a wall of ridges and coils that stretched a foot and a half wide before I decided I couldn't get at it with my hands alone.
I ran back to the house for a shovel and pick, half fearful that it would have disappeared when I returned. But no, it was still there, no figment of my imagination. I took up the shovel and dug and scraped, as careful as I could be through my excitement, because I didn't know where it ended and I didn't want to do any damage. It began to reveal itself: reeds woven in a pattern of dark and lightan Indian basketbut a design I didn't know. The damn thing was huge, the biggest basket I'd ever seen; there seemed to be no end to it. I was sweating in the chill; I took off my coat and laid it on the bank and kept going. I thought of how that heron had stared at me, summoning me to look, as if this was something he meant for me to find.
I was wet to my knees and filthy with clay by the time I had it half dug out of the bank. I tried to tilt it loose, but it was caught fast, and it felt solid, which told me there was something inside. I tried to rock it, cursed when it didn't budge, and grabbed the pick again. A shadow crossed the water.
Excerpted from Bone River by Megan Chance. Copyright © 2012 by Megan Chance. Excerpted by permission of Amazon Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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