But this parakeet, if that's what it was, did sing, and it sang alone. Laurel sidled around another waterfall. The song became louder, clearer, coming not from the creek but near the ridge crest. As quietly as possible, Laurel left the water and made her way through trees twined with virgin's bower, then into a thicket of rhododendron. Close now, the song's source only a few yards away. On the thicket's other side, sunlight fell through a breech in the canopy. Laurel crouched and moved nearer, pulled aside a last thick-leaved rhododendron branch. A flash of silvery flame caused her to scuttle back into the thicket, brightness pulsing on the back of her eyelids.
The song did not pause. She blinked until the brightness went away and again moved closer, no longer crouching but on her knees. Through a gap in the leaves she saw a haversack, then shoes and pants. Laurel lifted her gaze, her eyelids half closed to shutter the brightness.
A man sat with his back against a tree, eyes closed as his fingers skipped across a silver flute. All the while his cheeks pursed and puffed, nostrils flaring for air. The man's blond hair was a greasy tangle, his whiskers not yet a full beard but enough of one to, like his hair, snare dirt and twigs. Laurel let her gaze take in a blue chambray shirt torn and frayed and missing buttons, the corduroy pants ragged as the shirt, and shoes whose true color was lost in a lathering of dried mud. Sunday shoes, not brogans or top overs. Except for the flute, whatever else the man possessed looked to be in the haversack. A circle of black ground and charred wood argued he'd been on the ridge at least a day.
The song ended and the man opened his eyes. The man set the flute across his raised knees and tilted his head, as though awaiting a response to the song. Perhaps one he would not welcome, because he appeared suddenly tense. His eyes swept past Laurel and she saw no crow's feet crinkled the eyes, the brow and cheeks briar-scratched but unlined. The eyes were the same blue as water in a deep river pool, the face long and thin, features more hewn than kneaded. Laurel tugged the muslin on her left shoulder closer to her neck. Then he closed his eyes again and pressed his lower lip to the metal, played something more clearly a human song.
Excerpted from The Cove by Ron Rash. Copyright © 2012 by Ron Rash. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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