Study Guide

Where the Red Fern Grows

Where the Red Fern Grows Summary

We start the novel in present day. Well, not our present day, but the author's present day. Which is actually the 1960s. So, let's try this again.

We start the novel in the 1960s. On his way home from work, the author hears a dogfight between a hound and several other dogs. Seeing the hound makes him remember two other hounds from way back when. Cue flashback.

All of a sudden, we're way back when, which is about 50 years earlier. We aren't told exactly, but our Wayback Machine tells us it's the 1910-20s. That old guy from before is now a twelve-year-old boy desperate for a pair of Redbone Coonhounds. The problem is that Billy's parents are poor. Not super poor, but poor enough that they're not about to run off and buy him a pair of purebred dogs. So Billy takes matters into his own hands. After two years of saving up, he finally has enough money to buy a pair of hounds.

The dogs are everything he ever dreamed they would be. He names them Old Dan and Little Ann. Old Dan is strong, brave, and stubborn. He is also, and there is no kind way to say this, a little dumb. Little Ann on the other hand is really, really, smart, like almost freakishly smart. (She's also the runt of the litter, so she's super small.)

The three of them (Billy, Old Dan, and Little Ann) are inseparable. They hunt and hunt and hunt, and then they hunt some more. Seriously, most of this book is Billy in the woods hunting with his dogs. Billy sells his raccoon skins at his grandfather's store, but gives all the money to his dad. Sweet kid, right? He doesn't care about the money, he just wants to keep on hunting.

Billy earns a reputation in his small town for having the best hunting dogs around. His grandfather enters Billy in a hunting competition, convinced Billy can win. And surprise! After an epic hunt through a snowstorm, Billy wins the whole thing. Plus Little Ann wins the best-looking dog contest. Take that, haters!

After the hunting competition, things settle down a bit. One day Billy goes hunting and is attacked by a mountain lion. Get ready, because this isn't going to end well. His dogs protect him by jumping between him and the lion. After a bloody battle, Billy and his dogs manage to kill the mountain lion, but not without Old Dan suffering a fatal wound and dying.

As if things couldn't get any worse, a few days later Billy notices Little Ann has stopped eating. He wonders if she is sick from the battle, but it turns out she is heartsick over losing Old Dan. So, she crawls up to Old Dan's grave and dies. Look, we told you to get the tissues ready.

Billy's parents tell him that because of his dogs the family now has enough money to move to town. Billy and his sisters can now get a real education. Surprise, Billy doesn't care about school. He just wants his dogs back. He goes super emo on his parents and tells them he doesn't believe in God anymore.

When Billy visits their graves one last time before moving to town, he sees that a red fern has sprouted between the two graves. His first instinct is to chop it down but then he remembers a legend that says that a red fern symbolizes sacred ground, and only an angel can only plant one. All right! Billy snaps out of his emo phase, dyes his hair back to its normal color (kidding), and regains his faith.

  • Chapter 1

    • We begin on a beautiful spring day. The narrator is just leaving his office, and he is very specific in telling us that this is a perfectly normal day.
    • There is nothing special about it at all, nothing whatsoever, nada, zip.
    • While thinking about all this normalness, he hears the sounds of a dogfight.
    • He doesn't think much about it until he sees the fight: a handful of dogs are teamed up against a redbone hound.
    • He watches as one after another these dogs try to attack the hound. He decides to help the hound, saying, "I had seen the time when an old hound like that had given his life so that I might live" (1.8). Hmmm, sounds to us like there's a story there.
    • He wades into the fight (don't try this at home, Shmoopers), and shoos off all the attacking dogs.
    • On closer inspection, the narrator sees that the dog is dirty and skinny, and has a homemade collar. Clearly this is a country dog, not a city dog. 
    • We also find out that the dog's name is Buddie (cute), and most likely belongs to a little boy.
    • The narrator, whose name we still don't know, takes the dog home. He feeds him and cleans him up.
    • Buddie hangs around that evening and all the next day, but by the next evening he is restless to be on his way.
    • Letting him go, the narrator watches Buddie walk away into the sunset.
    • For the rest of the chapter, the narrator reflects on who Buddie might have been and where he might have come from: "something drastic must have happened in his life, as it is very unusual for a hound to be traveling all alone" (1.30).
    • His reflections on Buddie lead him to memories of his boyhood days, and two hounds of his own. He tells us that the story is a sad one, so be prepared with a tissue. Actually, scratch that, grab a whole box.
    • The narrator returns to his house, but leaves the gate open just in case Buddie wants to come back.
    • Come on, dude, you can't take a dog from a little boy.
    • In his house, he builds a fire and examines two cups on the mantel. One is gold and the other, slightly smaller, cup is silver.
    • Looking at the cups, the narrator begins to remember the story behind them, probably complete with flashback music and wavy visual effects.
  • Chapter 2

    • Chapter two opens with puppy love. No, not the boy-meets-girl kind of puppy love, but actual puppy puppy love. We mean the kind with four legs and a tail.
    • The narrator, Billy, has sent us back to a time when he was 10 years old.
    • So, the narrator is 10 years old and deeply, deeply, deeply in love with dogs. (Girls have cooties.)
    • But not just any dog, he wants a coonhound (a type of hound that hunts raccoons. Hey, truth in advertising).
    • And he doesn't just want one; he wants two.
    • This is a problem. See Billy's family is going through a bit of hard luck and doesn't have any extra money. But does this deter Billy? Not a chance.
    • He continues to ask his parents.
    • His dad tells him flat out they don't have the money. His mom says he's too young to be hunting with hounds, and that he can't have a gun till he's 21 anyway.
    • Don't anyone tell the NRA about that.
    • Billy is bummed. They live in primo hunting country, and Billy has been wandering the woods tracking raccoons for as long as he can remember. This kid would lie for hours just staring at raccoon tracks, thinking about their cute little hands, and wanting to kill them.
    • Billy's dog crush gets worse. He starts to lose weight and his parents become concerned about his health, but there is nothing they can do because they don't have any extra money.
    • So Billy decides to make the ultimate sacrifice. He tells his dad he could live with just one dog rather than two.
    • Dad tells him how hard times are and that if he could he would buy him the hounds in an instant. This breaks poor little Billy's heart, and he cries himself to sleep.
    • To be honest, it probably breaks his dad's heart, too.
    • Things perk up for Billy the next day when his dad brings him home three small steel traps from the town store.
    • Billy starts trapping anything he can. Unfortunately, his most common catch is the house cat Sammie, until Sammie gets fed up with the constant threat of death and leaves home.
    • Billy continues to play with his traps, and the only thing he can't trap is a raccoon.
    • But he has fun anyway setting his traps and collecting his game.
    • You know how when you get a new toy it seems like the most amazing thing ever, but after a while the fun sort of wears off? That's exactly what happened with Billy, only worse. Trapping in the woods had given him bloodlust (or something), and now he wants some hunting dogs more than ever.
    • When hunting season opens, he hears hounds all night in the woods. He starts to lose weight again and stops sleeping.
    • His mom is worried, but his dad figures he's been cooped up all winter and just needs to get out in the sun. So he decides to let Billy help on the farm, "it'll put some muscle on him" (2.73).
    • Oh, just what Billy wants. We're so sure that backbreaking labor is just the ticket. Give the kid a Nintendo DS, fer cryin' out loud! That'll take his mind off things.
  • Chapter 3

    • Billy starts working on the farm. Has it cured him of his dog-lust? No way. He wants his coonhounds just as much as ever.
    • One day, while hoeing corn down by the river, Billy sees an abandoned fisherman camp. So he does what any 11-year-old boy would do: snoops around.
    • In the camp, he finds a sportsman's magazine that changes his life (his words not ours.)
    • In the back of the magazine is an ad for redbone coonhound pups, just $25 a piece. But remember this isn't $25 in the present day when that'll barely buy you a 3D movie ticket. For Billy, this is a fortune.
    • But that doesn't matter. At this point Billy is lost in the daydream of hound puppies.
    • But how is he going to find the $50 he needs for the puppies? He remembers a passage from the Bible: "God helps those who help themselves" (3.8).
    • Tasty brain snack: turns out, that phrase is not in the Bible. It actually comes from Greek tragedy, at least in the Western World.
    • Okay, back to the story. On his way home, Billy comes up with a plan to save the money. He'll sell vegetables and berries to fishermen in the summer, he'll sell whatever he could trap during the winter, and he'll save every penny he earns till he has enough to buy those hound pups.
    • Before he even earns a penny he starts planning their doghouse, imagining the collars he'll make and trying out names. And then probably writing those names down in his Trapper Keeper (do they still make those?) and surrounding them with little sparkly hearts.
    • He finds a K.C. Baking Powder can in the trash pile and shines it all up to use as a bank.
    • Off to work. Billy picks berries till his hands are raw and scratched; he traps and skins animals, then sells the hides at his grandpa's store; and he saves. Every penny.
    • At one point his grandpa asks him what he is doing with the money he earns, and Billy tells him all about the pups.
    • Billy asks if he'll order them for him when he has the money, since you probably have to be 18 or older and all. His grandpa agrees, but totally doesn't believe that Billy can really save all that money.
    • Cue montage. Weeks pass. Then months. Finally, after two long, slow years Billy earns the money he needs.
    • After counting his money over and over like some Scrooge McDuck, he runs down to his grandpa's store.
    • His grandpa is so surprised that there's a minute when he thinks Billy might have stolen the money.
    • But when Billy clears it up for him, his grandpa starts to tear up and tells him he'll order the pups for him.
    • Now comes the awesome part. His grandpa hands him a candy bag, and tells him to fill it up. So, Billy's getting his dogs and a bag of candy.
    • Seriously, can life get any better?
    • Now, it's been a long time since Billy had any candy. A long, long time. So, you'd expect him to sit down outside the door and scarf it up right away.
    • Instead, he takes it him, spreads it out on the bed, and shares it with his younger sisters.
    • Aw, what a guy, right? All our brother ever gave us was wedgies. (Just kidding, bro! We love you!)
  • Chapter 4

    • So, Billy is well on his way to fulfilling his lifelong dream of owning two hunting hounds. Sure, he's a kid, so we're not talking a decades-long dream of anything, but still.
    • After checking every day at his grandpa's store for a letter from the kennels, since, you know, he can't exactly track his package online, he finally hears that the pups should arrive in a couple of weeks.
    • The only catch is that the buggy doesn't come all the way out to their tiny little town, so the pups will be delivered to the town of Tahlequah, about 30 miles away.
    • So Billy waits and waits (this kid has some serious patience), until he finally hears that the pups have arrived.
    • But. No one is going into Tahlequah for another week, so he pups just have to sit there until someone will give him a ride in.
    • Well, little Billy has finally had enough waiting. You thought it was never going to happen, right?
    • That night he packs a bag full of food and sneaks out of the house to go get his pups by himself.
    • Tahlequah is 32 miles by road, but only 20 through the woods, so obviously he heads straight into the woods. In the middle of the night.
    • Did we mention this kid was determined? And maybe a little dim-witted?
    • Billy travels all night and into the morning before resting. He was tired, but "had the wind of a deer, the muscles of a country boy, a heart full of dog love, and a strong determination" (4.24). Scared? No way.
    • But you know what is scary? Tahlequah. It's the biggest town he's ever seen. Some of the buildings are two stories high. Seriously! Two whole stories!
    • Plus, there's the town marshal (like a cop). This is super scary, because all Billy has read in stories is that marshals are super dangerous and quick with their guns.
    • But the craziest thing about town is that he can see a reflection of himself in a store window. This is seriously the first time he's ever seen a full reflection of himself.
    • Wait, without a full-length mirror, how does he know if those overalls make him look fat?
    • He decides to buy some gifts for his family to smooth over the fact that he left home in the middle of the night without telling anyone. Even parents in early twentieth-century rural America aren't too okay with that.
    • As he heads toward the depot to pick up his dogs, he sees kids playing on a school playground.
    • One of the boys from the playground makes fun of him for not having shoes and being from the hills.
    • When the bell rings, and Billy is left alone, he tries to play on the playground like the students. But he ends up falling and being laughed at by the gardener.
    • All in all, his trip to town hasn't started off too well.
  • Chapter 5

    • Things are looking up: Billy has finally made it to the depot station. Unfortunately, he can't work up the nerve to go in.
    • Eventually, the stationmaster comes out to chat up Billy. He mentions off-hand that they have some puppies for a young boy who lives upriver. Hint hint, wink wink.
    • Billy is so excited that he can't even squeak out that the puppies are for him. After two years and many more weeks of waiting, can you blame him?
    • The stationmaster was totally just teasing him. When he's done getting his kicks, he sends Billy around to the freight entrance for his puppies.
    • When they're let out of the box, the puppies crawl adorably all over Billy's feet. And he totally loses it. He kneels down, buries his face between them, and starts to cry. Hey, it's been a long day—not to mention a long two years.
    • Billy walks out of the depot with his chest all puffed up and proud. Now that he's got two good hounds, no one's going to dare to stare at or laugh at him. Right? Totally.
    • Uh, or not. Apparently, a shoeless boy walking down the street with two puppies sticking out of his gunnysack will attract some attention.
    • Two old women glare at him as he walks by, and say (in their best snooty accent) "Well, I never" (5.42). Billy responds by saying the fancy feathers in their hats ain't nothing by "goose feathers painted with iodine" (5.43). It's not the best come back, but it does the trick. The women turn and walk away sufficiently offended.
    • Suddenly people (mostly young boys) are swarming Billy. They laugh and ask him all sorts of questions about the puppies.
    • Poor Billy is so overwhelmed that he starts crying in the street.
    • Not such a great day after all, and it gets worse. The leader of a boys' gang walks up to Billy and stomps right on his bare foot. Seriously, who does that?
    • Also, so much for the idea that everything was better back in the day, because obviously it wasn't.
    • So the foot-stomping was bad enough—but then a boy pulls the ears of one of his dogs. And that is it for Billy. He very maturely sets his bag down, and then punches the kid in the face.
    • Well, this starts an all out brawl between the gang and Billy. Unfortunately Billy is losing, badly. That tends to happen when a gang goes after one scared little kid.
    • The beating only stops because the marshal intervenes. Turns out, the big scary marshal is actually a super sweet guy. He's so moved by Billy's story about saving for the puppies that he buys Billy a soda pop.
    • This is seriously the first time Billy has ever even tried a soda. Weirdly, he doesn't seem too jazzed about it, just says that it felt good on his "hot dry throat."
    • The marshal walks him to the edge of town and Billy starts on his long journey home.
    • Night falls. He finds a cave, builds a fire, and makes a bed of leaves. Seriously, who is this kid? We don't even like going in the backyard at night, much less camping in the middle of the woods all by ourselves.
    • Billy takes advantage of this relaxing little vacation to examine and play with his puppies for the first time.
    • The boy dog is really brave, especially for his puppy size, but he's not the smartest of dogs. The girl pup is much smaller, but she is also much smarter. We would say something about gender stereotypes, but we'll restrain ourselves.
    • Billy falls asleep with his puppies, but soon wakes up to the sound of screaming. Oh, hey! It's a mountain lion.
    • You know what mountain lions are scared of? No? We didn't either. Luckily, Billy does. They're not too fond of fire, so he builds up the embers and gets a good blaze going.
    • Seeing his brave little puppies standing guard at the mouth of the cave gives Billy courage. He hollers back at the lion and throws rocks for hours, until the lion finally heads off to find easier, less stubborn prey.
  • Chapter 6

    • After a long, terrifying night, the sun comes up and Billy is again on his way with his pups.
    • Billy decides to head home by way of the fishing grounds where he first found the sportsman's magazine.
    • He stalls for a bit while he figures out how to tell his parents. See, not only did he leave in the middle of the night without telling anyone, but he also never told them about saving for the pups in the first place.
    • Seriously, if Billy were our son, we'd be a little afraid of him. What kind of kid can save his pennies for two years and not breathe a single word about it? A really freaky one, that's who.
    • In the end, he decides to be honest and straightforward with them. Sure, sounds good.
    • But first, he has to deal with a way more important and pressing problem: naming the pups.
    • As he debates all sort of names, he looks up and sees a heart carved in a tree with the names Ann and Dan. He decides on Little Ann and Old Dan as perfect names.
    • Talk about coincidence! He first found the magazine in the camp, and now he found names for his pups in the very same spot. It's almost like there's some unseen power helping out. (For more on this, visit our "Themes: Religion" section.)
    • When he finally sees his house, Billy realizes it looks different after his visit to town: "It looked clean and neat and peaceful, nestled there in the foothills of the Ozarks. Yes, on that night I was proud of our home" (6.14). Guess the big city isn't so great, after all.
    • Well, up Billy goes to the house, and it turns out that his family knew just where he was the whole time. When they couldn't find him, they looked at his grandpa's store. Gramps spilled the beans, so Billy doesn't have to explain anything.
    • In fact, it doesn't even seem like he's going to get in trouble. Billy's mom is freaking out about how worried they all were; Billy's sisters just want to play with the puppies; and Billy can't stop crying. The whole scene is a little crazy.
    • So, it looks like everything turned out okay for Billy. He's forgiven for the whole running away in the middle of the night thing and his family's excited about the pups—not to mention the new clothes.
    • Billy and his dad have some "man-talk" (6.32). (Billy's words, not ours.)
    • And no, it's not about girls. They talk about town, the marshal, the cave and the mountain lion, and all the mean boys in town.
    • But all his sisters want to hear about is what soda pop tastes like. Girls, are we right? (No. We're not right. Billy isn't exactly a spokesperson for gender equality.)
    • Billy tells his dad that he never wants to go to town again. It was dumb and stupid and dumb. (Our words, this time.)
    • Now his dad gets really serious, saying that at some point they're all going to live in town, so the kids can get properly educated. But not just yet.
    • The next day Billy gets his DIY on. He makes his pups a doghouse and some collars from scrap leather and wire.
    • The last thing? He tells his mom that he thinks God helped him get his pups. He's always going to be thankful for that.
  • Chapter 7

    • Billy's got his hounds, but he's missing something. A raccoon pelt to train them. Man, it's always something, right?
    • Sure, he's got traps, but raccoons are too smart to fall for it. Weeks go by, and he's still raccoon-less.
    • Finally, his grandpa tells him a surefire way to catch a raccoon. (Although we don't know why Gramps didn't clue Billy into this earlier.)
    • He just needs a brace (a tool used for drilling holes) and some nails. You drill a hole in the log and put something shiny in the bottom. Then you drive nails along the shaft, so the raccoon can get his hand in. But once he grabs the shiny object at the bottom, he can't get it out and he's stuck. Voila!
    • Do you see a flaw here? Billy does, too. He asks his grandpa why the raccoons won't just open their freaky little paws and drop the object. The peculiar thing about raccoons, his grandpa tells him, is that once they grab onto something they won't let go, ever.
    • Um. That sounds a lot like some dog-loving boy we know.
    • Billy's a little dubious, but he takes his grandpa's advice and sets fourteen traps in logs along the river.
    • He checks them the next day. Boom. All empty. Guess Gramps doesn't know what he's talking about—or does he?
    • His dad tells him that the raccoons were probably scared off by the scent of a human. Billy just needs to be patient (again), and he'll get his raccoon.
    • Apparently, Billy's patience is all used up, because he ignores his dad and checks the traps every morning for a week with no luck. He gets a bit depressed about this.
    • And then, one morning, there's a raccoon in one of the traps! And boy, is it an angry raccoon.
    • Tiny little Old Dan charges the raccoon. Remember, he's the not-too-bright one.
    • Billy suspects that this is not going to end well, so he grabs his pups and runs for home.
    • His mom sees Billy running like crazy and thinks a snake has bitten him, so she yells to his dad, and there is all sorts of confusion while Billy tries to explain that he just caught a really ticked-off raccoon.
    • Everyone heads out to the trap. The family that kills raccoons together, stays together.
    • On the way, Billy explains how the pups charged the raccoon without any fear. His dad tells him this is a good sign for them as hunting dogs.
    • When they get to the raccoon, Billy's dad picks up a club (be prepared, this is about to get gruesome) and whacks the raccoon twice on the head.
    • Done and done. One raccoon pelt, coming up.
    • The sisters have already run back to the house, crying. GIRLS.
    • Billy's dad tells him he should take down all the traps, because this isn't a fair way to trap a raccoon. You should at least give them a sporting chance. Life lesson, you guys!
    • Anyway, Billy finally has his hounds and a pelt to train them with. And boy does he ever train them.
    • It's immediately clear that Little Ann is going to be the better tracker, but Old Dan is stubborn and determined. Together, they make a perfect hunting pair.
    • The chapter ends with Billy having a heart to heart with his pups before hunting season starts. He tells them he's proud of them and it's going to be up to them now. He's done all he can, but it's time to see what they're made of.
    • (Also, can they please remember to call home once in a while, and only use his credit card for emergencies?)
  • Chapter 8

    • Hunting season is here! Let's go kill us some coons!
    • The thing about (ra)coon hunting is that you have to hunt at night. Billy's mom isn't too happy about this, but he says he'll be careful.
    • She doesn't seem too convinced, but, seriously, if any kid can handle it, we're pretty sure it's Billy.
    • Before they go out for their first hunt, Billy has a talk with his dogs. He does this a lot, so get used to it.
    • After some more pleas from his mother to be safe, Billy heads off into the woods for his first coon hunt.
    • He has another brief conversation with his pups about the difference between training and real hunting (see, we said he would do this a lot).
    • And then he sets them loose.
    • While Billy waits to hear the telltale bark of his hounds that they found something, he wanders around the woods taking in the sounds and scents of wildlife.
    • Old Dan barking soon interrupts his peaceful thoughts, and it looks like Billy will finally get his first coon.
    • He runs after them, but he can tell the coon has pulled its first wily trick and headed across the river. The hounds, being novice hunters, are confused. Billy waits to see if they remember their training and can figure out where the coon went.
    • Exciting stuff, right?
    • Okay, remember how Little Ann is the brains of this operation? While Old Dan whines at Billy for some help, Little Ann has a brain flash and takes off swimming across the river, with Old Dan following right behind her.
    • The hounds search for an hour and a half trying to find the trail. Just as it looks like the coon got away, Little Ann gets a good whiff of the coon. She and Old Dan run it up a tree. Success!
    • Let's hit the pause button: the idea of "treeing" a coon is that the dogs chase the raccoon up a tree and then guard the tree till the hunter can get there. Then the hunter either shoots the raccoon out of the tree, or cuts the tree down. Then the dogs take care of the raccoon. Yes, we know it's a bit gruesome. Circle of life and all that.
    • Now back to the story.
    • So, Billy's pups have finally treed a coon. But as nothing in Billy's life is ever easy, the dogs had treed the coon in the biggest tree in the woods: "Like a king in his own domain, it towered far above the smaller trees" (8.86).
    • The tree is too big to climb, and it will take days to chop down. Billy calls to his dogs and decides to try for a different coon.
    • Well, these hounds have made up their mind that they want this coon in this tree. They don't move a muscle and instead just look at Billy with sad puppy dog eyes, literally.
    • Billy grits his teeth, looks up at the tree, and decides he will chop it down even if it takes a year (cue inspirational music).
    • He picks up his ax and starts choppin'. He chops all night and into the next morning. It starts off pretty easy, but by sunup he is stiff, sore, and exhausted.
    • Eventually his father comes looking for him, since Billy sort of didn't go home when he was supposed to. Is it any wonder his mom worries so much about this kid?
    • His dad offers to help him cut down the tree, but Billy is determined to do it on his own. He doesn't want to disappoint his dogs. They are still looking at him with those sad puppy dog eyes.
    • So instead, he tells Billy that he'll send his sisters down with some lunch.
    • Billy keeps on chopping and chopping. His little sister brings him some lunch and hassles him about being crazy for trying to chop down the tree.
    • He yells at her to leave, and when she does guess what Billy does? He keeps on chopping and chopping and chopping….
  • Chapter 9

    • New chapter, same story. Billy is still chopping away at his giant tree. He's tired, in pain, and doesn't think he can go on. But just then, who comes to his rescue? Why, it's his lovable old grandpa come in a buggy with a plan.
    • His grandpa tells him he just needs some rest and food and he'll be able to keep going right along. Together they build a scarecrow that will trick the raccoon into staying in the tree, so Billy can go home and get some rest.
    • Billy and his grandpa hop into the buggy to head for home. Only Little Ann follows, and reluctantly at that. Old Dan flat out refuses to leave the tree. Billy's grandpa has to carry him up into the buggy, with Billy hanging onto his collar to keep him from jumping out.
    • During dinner, Billy's grandpa explains what a smart pair of dogs Billy has (well, specifically Little Ann) for being able to figure out that coon's tricks.
    • He also mentions that the price of coonskins might be jumping due the popularity of coonskin coats, and Billy might just be able to make some money with all this hunting.
    • Gross, but true: raccoon-skin coats were popular with college boys back in the 1920s.
    • Exhausted, Billy collapses into bed and sleeps straight on till breakfast.
    • At breakfast, Billy's mom worries that Billy is too sore, but his dad figures a few good swings of the ax will limber him right up.
    • His dad also mentions that he heard a dog bawling all night and it sounded suspiciously like Old Dan. Hmmm.…
    • Billy runs straight for the doghouse, but can only find Little Ann. He figures Old Dan must have gone back to guard the coon.
    • When he gets to the tree, he sees that not only has Old Dan been guarding it all night, but there is also a second bed where Little Ann stood guard. She had gone back to the house in the morning to get Billy.
    • Now there is nothing in the world that can stop Billy from getting that raccoon for his dogs.
    • And so the chopping begins again.
    • And continues all day.
    • More chopping.
    • Blisters start forming and popping on Billy's hands, and this just about breaks him. He throws down the ax and declares he can't do it. He drops to his knees and prays for the strength to finish the job.
    • As he prays, he looks up and sees a huge gust of wind at the top of the big tree, but none of the other trees are moving. Suspicious, right?
    • The wind picks up, the tree sways more and more, and…TIMBER! The tree comes crashing to the ground.
    • All that for one little rabies-carrying beast? Yes.
    • Billy turns his dogs loose after the coon. After a brief, but gruesome, battle, the dogs win and the coon is dead.
    • Looking over the fallen sycamore, Billy apologizes to the tree and hopes it understood what he had to do.
    • He collects his prize, and heads home with his hounds.
    • His family greets him on the porch, beaming proudly. His mother, however, is still not sold on all this hunting business.
    • While Billy and his dad skin the coon, Billy tells his dad that he thinks God sent the wind to knock the tree down. 
    • His dad tells him he couldn't say one way or the other. It's up to Billy to decide for himself.
  • Chapter 10

    • After his first raccoon, Billy goes a bit "coon crazy" (10.1). He's out hunting every night, and catches coon after coon after coon.
    • Fortunately, his Grandfather's prediction about coon hides jumping in price is true. Billy is raking in the money, but he turns over every penny to his dad. All he cares about is the hunting.
    • He sells the furs at his grandpa's shop, and listens to the other coon hunters telling stories and tales.
    • Even though Billy brings in more furs than anyone else, the other hunters tease Billy about his small dogs. Because they're so mature and all.
    • Some fun facts about the dogs: yes, they're small. But Little Ann is smart as a whip, and a sweet little thing (unless she's after a coon, we guess).
    • Old Dan, on the other hand, is tough and stubborn. He's friendly, sort of, but refuses to hunt with any dog other than Little Ann. In fact, he won't even hunt by himself.
    • Since Little Ann is constantly saving him from his own bad decisions, that seems like a good call on his part. Time for some anecdotes about this poor, dumb dog:
    • Like this one night, they're hunting a coon and chase it into the river. Little Ann comes out the other side, but Old Dan is nowhere to be found.
      Billy is freaking out, but Little Ann just keeps pawing and pawing at the ground about 10 feet from the river.
    • See, she's found an air hole for a muskrat den and is frantically digging at it.
    • Finally, Billy figures it out. Old Dan has somehow ended up in there, and Little Ann is trying to get him out.
    • Billy grabs a shovel from home and gets digging. He finally pulls Old Dan out, covered in mud from nose to tail.
    • Oh, and this other time? Old Dan climbed up so high after a raccoon that Billy had to climb up after him so he didn't fall and break his neck.
    • Yeah, even for a dog that's kind of dim.
  • Chapter 11

    • But Old Dan isn't the only one getting into hilarious scrapes.
    • Like this one time, a blizzard keeps Billy from hunting for four whole days.
    • What do you think he does the second it stops? Yes. He goes right out hunting.
    • Now, Billy is a smart kid, but this is certainly not one of his best ideas—even though he promises his mom that he won't go far.
    • He slips and slides all through the woods on the ice, snow, and slush. It would be hilarious if it weren't so cold and wet.
    • Eventually Old Dan hits on a coon trail and the hunt is on. All of a sudden, things get quiet, like eerily quiet. You know when you can sense something is wrong? That's how Billy feels.
    • And boy is he right.
    • Little Ann has a little accident while trying to cross the frozen river.
    • And by "little accident," we mean the ice broke and she fell in. She's currently hanging on by her claws, with her head just above the water.
    • To make things worse, Old Dan has left the chase to come back and try to help her.
    • It's the only time stubborn Old Dan has ever given up on a hunt.
    • That, Shmoopers, is true love.
    • Billy tries to reach out to her, but the ice breaks under his weight. He falls onto the shore of the river.
    • Things are starting to get dire, and Billy thinks he is going to watch as his little dog drowns in front of him.
    • He drops to his knees and prays for help. (Have you noticed yet how often this happens?)
    • All of a sudden, he hears a metallic sound. He thinks it's a boat, but it turns out it's just the sound of the handle clanking on his lantern. For a moment things look hopeless.
    • Billy has a flash of brilliance. He unhooks the handle from the lantern and attaches it to the longest stick he can find. Then he strips down, wades out into the icy water and essentially goes fishing for Little Ann with the lantern handle as a hook.
    • Just as she starts to slip under, Billy hooks her collar and pulls her out. Crisis averted!
    • He starts a fire to warm them both up, and massages all her limbs till she is able to stand on her own.
    • When he gets home he decides not to tell his parents about his little adventure, since they might start to think this hunting thing is dangerous or something.
    • Later, he asks his mom if God always answers prayers. She tells him only if the prayer is said from the heart. Then she gives him a kiss, but he squirms away. 
    • After all, what self-respecting coon hunter allows himself to be kissed by his mommy?
  • Chapter 12

    • Turns out, Billy's dogs are gaining quite the reputation as coon hunters.
    • One day at his grandpa's store, Billy runs into the two youngest Prichard boys. The Prichard family is no good: "Tales were told that they were bootleggers, thieves, and just all-round 'no accounts'" (12.10).
    • Rubin and Rainie Prichard challenge Billy to a hunting competition. There's a raccoon that lives near their home called the "ghost coon." No hound has ever been able to tree it. They bet Billy two dollars his hounds can't tree him either.
    • Billy doesn't want to bet, but his grandpa, as the mature adult in this situation (not), gets caught up in the bet and gives Billy the two dollars. 
    • Well, at least he warns the Prichard boys not to hurt Billy or his hounds, or he'll send the marshal on them.
    • Once again Billy decides to not tell his parents about his hunting plans. This is sort of becoming a pattern with him.
    • That night the boys meet up. The Pritchards make fun of the size of Little Ann and Old Dan, but Billy doesn't mind. He just tells them, "dynamite came in little packages" (12.87).
    • What really gets him mad is when Rainie starts going on about how crooked Billy's grandpa is. Billy threatens to leave, Rubin threatens to bloody Rainie's nose, and Rainie finally shuts up.
    • Before the three boys can argue anymore, Old Dan picks up the trail of the ghost coon. Just as quickly, he loses it.
    • Remember, this isn't any ordinary raccoon; it's the mythical ghost coon. Like a ghost ship, only less nautical.
    • But Little Ann is on the case. And with a little determination, and some acrobatic skills, she actually hunts him down. The chase is on!
    • The ghost coon heads for an open field. Rainie tells Billy that if the ghost coon gets to a certain tree, he'll disappear.
    • Just then, Billy hears Old Dan bark, but not Little Ann. Billy hurries after them to see what is so special about this tree.
    • We're actually getting a little excited about this.
  • Chapter 13

    • Huh. That tree doesn't look like anything special, but sure enough the raccoon isn't there. It disappeared. Spooky!
    • Little Ann knows that the ghost coon isn't in the tree, so she keeps searching. Old Dan (remember, he's the dim one) keeps barking at the tree.
    • Rainie demands that Billy pay up, but Billy won't give up till his dogs do.
    • Well, after a little more searching his dogs give up, and Billy has to hand over the two dollars. It's a sad moment for our little hero.
    • Rubin has a big old stupid grin on his face and says how this is going to break Billy's grandpa's heart. How Billy keeps from punching him, we don't know.
    • Just kidding, folks! Use your words, not your firsts.
    • While Rubin gloats, the wind shifts. Little Ann's little ears perk up; she's picked up a scent. She heads straight for a gatepost and barks the special doggie code that means, "Hey, dude, I've got me a coon up in this tree."
    • Billy grabs a switch, jams it inside the hollow post, and out pops the ghost coon. Little Ann caught the ghost coon!
    • After fighting his way free from the hounds, the coon runs off for the nearest tree and scurries up into the branches.
    • Billy decides to climb the tree and scare him down. But once he's up in the tree, he realizes he doesn't want to kill the ghost coon, after all.
    • This starts a big old fight with Rubin. Billy wants his money back, but Rubin refuses and decides that he is going to scare the coon out. Billy says he won't let his dogs kill the coon, so Rubin threatens to beat up Billy.
    • At this point things get really intense.
    • The Pritchards' hound, Old Blue, shows up. This doesn't go over well with Old Dan, and Billy is worried there might be a dogfight.
    • Billy tries to leave, but Rubin still refuses to give him his two dollars.
    • Then, just as Billy predicted, a fight breaks out between Old Dan and Old Blue.
    • Rubin grabs Billy, so he can't break up the fight between the dogs. Rubin figures that Old Blue, being the bigger dog, will win.
    • But he doesn't account for Little Ann, who charges like a little dog-shaped lion. Now Rainie's upset, terrified that the two dogs are going to kill Old Blue.
    • Things are about to get gruesome (again), so be prepared.
    • Rubin picks up Billy's ax and charges in to kill Old Dan and Little Ann. As he's running, he trips on a stick and falls.
    • And that, Shmoopers, is why you never run with scissors.
    • Anyway, Billy manages to break up the fight before his dogs kill Old Blue. But Rubin isn't looking too good. In fact, he isn't moving.
    • Rainie is standing over Rubin paralyzed with fear. When Billy comes over, he sees the ax sunk deep into Rubin's stomach.
    • Rubin, just barely alive, asks Billy to pull the ax out. Oops. When he does, blood gushes out, and Rubin dies. That is way harsh. We didn't like the guy, but, still. Yikes.
    • Pro tip: never pull something out of someone's flesh. That's what doctors (and clamps and blood transfusions) are for.
    • Rainie has run off. Billy collects his dogs and runs for home.
    • When he gets home, he wakes up his parents and tells them everything that happened.
    • The next day is a sad one. Rubin doesn't get a funeral, because the Pritchards decide to deal with it in their own way.
    • Over the next few days Billy doesn't feel like hunting. Unsurprisingly, he keeps having bad dreams.
    • Billy asks his mom if he can have a gun because he thinks it would be safer than carrying an ax.
    • Oookay. That makes sense. At least you can also do useful things with an ax.
    • It's also probably the worst possible thing he could have said to his mom, because she gets "sitting-hen" mad (13.163) and tells him he can have a gun when he's 21.
    • In retrospect, it's probably not the best timing on Billy's part.
    • Billy still feels like he needs to do something, so he takes some flowers and lays them on Rubin's grave at the Pritchards' house. What a little gentleman, right?
    • As he leaves the grave, he sees Mrs. Pritchard emerge from the house. He hurries into the woods but watches as she picks up his flowers, arranges them on the grave, and goes back to the house wiping her eyes.
    • This does the trick. Billy feels better and decides to start hunting again.
  • Chapter 14

    • A few more days pass and grandpa asks Billy to come on down to the store. Billy is worried that his grandpa is going to want to talk about Rubin's death.
    • Sure enough, it's the first thing his grandpa asks him about. But it's not the only thing.
    • He wants Billy to enter a Championship Coon Hunt.
    • And by "wants Billy to enter" he means "already paid the entry fee and registered the hounds." All Billy has to do is show up with his hounds.
    • Billy takes some convincing, but he sees how excited his grandpa is and figures, why not?
    • By the time they're done discussing the details, Billy can almost feel the cup in his hands.
    • On his way home, Billy skips the whole way. Birds are singing, rabbits are hopping, it's practically a Disney cartoon. Life is good.
    • He reflects on the last two years. And realizes life is good.
    • When he gets home, he asks his dad if he wants to come with him to the coon hunt.
    • His dad is worried about leaving the farm and Billy's mom. Billy looks at his mom and notices that her belly is "all swelled up" (14.94).
    • Duh! She's pregnant and Billy hadn't even noticed. Talk about distracted.
    • Billy's mom tells his dad she'll be fine for a few more months. There really isn't any work to do on the farm, so he should go.
    • He agrees, and Billy's littlest sister asks if she can have the gold cup when Billy wins it. He swears she can, and everybody is super duper happy about life.
    • We don't know why, but we get the feeling this isn't going to last.
    • The next couple of days are spent preparing the house to make it as easy as possible for Billy's mom.
    • Billy also gets his dogs ready for the competition. Remember how Billy likes to sit down and have a chat with his dogs? Well, he still does that. The night before they're supposed to leave, he sits his dogs down and tells them how important the hunt will be.
    • The next morning Billy and his dad head down to his grandpa's store.
    • His grandpa is loading up the buggy with a tent and groceries. And some other stuff, like Billy's old ax.
    • All the blood's been cleaned off, but Billy still feels a fleeting twinge about Rubin.
    • Well, but not too bad. He's more interested in the hunt, to be honest. 
    • All three dudes—at this point, Billy basically feels like a real dude, not a little kid—pile into his grandpa's buggy and head off on their road trip, or rather, buggy trip.
  • Chapter 15

    • They decide to spend one night on the road before heading to the campground the next day. And we don't mean spend a night in a motel along the highway; they set up a lean-to by the side of a creek.
    • Billy's grandpa wants to pamper the dogs a bit, so he gives them some canned corned beef. Yummy!
    • Well, sure, if you're comparing it to corn mush.
    • When Billy dumps the corned beef in front of Old Dan, the dog just sniffs if and waits. It turns out, he won't eat without Little Ann. Check out the manners on that dog!
    • Long after his grandpa and dad fall asleep, Billy lies awake listening to the sounds around him and thinking about the hunt.
    • Well, maybe he should have gone to sleep, because he ends up hearing two screech owls, which is evidently a really bad omen.
    • During breakfast, his grandpa teases him a bit about his superstition. His dad tells him there is nothing to worry about, "These mountains are full of that jinx stuff" (15.42).
    • So, we're thinking maybe Billy is still a bit more boy than man.
    • When breakfast is over, they pack up and head to the hunting campground.
    • They reach camp in the afternoon, and boy is it big. Billy has never seen so many tents all together.
    • He wanders around looking at all the hounds and people. When he gets back to their tent, his grandpa tells him the hunt is holding a best-looking hound contest in the morning.
    • Billy decides to enter Little Ann, because Old Dan has too many scars from tangling with coons.
    • The next morning he steals his grandfather's comb to brush down her coat. Then, lacking any oils or hair gels, he uses some of their butter and works it into her coat to make it all glossy. And probably kind of rancid, after a few days.
    • Round after round, dogs are eliminated from the contest, but Little Ann remains. In the end it comes down to Little Ann and another hound.
    • And the winner is…
    • Little Ann! Well, duh.
    • Billy is so proud of his little girl that he can't stop crying. All the men slap him on the back and congratulate him.
    • That evening the judges announce the rules of the hunting competition: each night five hunters go out with a judge, and in the morning they count up each hunter's catch. On the first night the hounds that catch the most will qualify for the final round. After the first night, each hunter must tie or beat the first night's top scores to qualify. Got it?
    • There are 25 hunters, so five nights of five hunters. The hunters then draw cards for which night they will hunt. Billy draws the fourth night.
    • This sounds like a seriously long competition. Also, wouldn't the fifth night be at kind of a disadvantage? Like, aren't the raccoons going to catch on after a while?
    • When the first set of hunters leave, the rest of the men stand around the campfire listening to the sounds of the hunt. Eventually they get tired and go to bed.
    • Here's how the first three nights of hunting break down:
    • The first night, the top hunter catches three coons, and the other four hunters are eliminated.
    • The second night, no one catches more than two coons. All the hunters are eliminated.
    • The third night, one hunter catches three coons, and the rest are eliminated.
    • Billy's grandpa asks him if he's ever treed three coons, and Billy has, but only four times.
    • Billy tells his grandpa they should go downstream a bit, so they can get away from where the other dogs have already hunted.
    • Okay, that's some good thinking at least. 
    • Now we come to Billy's night. It's the forth night, the moment of truth, the big day, the…well you get the point. Lots of pressure.
  • Chapter 16

    • It's time. Everyone piles into the buggy and heads off to hunt.
    • The judge and Billy's dad are walking along talking about the weather and the beauty of the mountains, just like it's a relaxing nature hike. 
    • Billy is a bit more focused.
    • The small talk is broken by the sound of Little Ann hot on a coon's trail. The hounds chase that coon all the way to the campground and back before they tree it.
    • Once it's treed, Billy's dad pulls out a pistol to scare the raccoon down. Boy, does that work. The coon is down in a flash and the hounds kill it in no time.
    • The hounds tree their second coon just across the river. This treeing is interrupted by some hijinks: Billy's grandpa falls in while trying to cross the river. He's not hurt; it's just sort of funny.
    • Oh yeah, so hilarious to watch the elderly fall into freezing cold rivers. We're cracking up over here.
    • Billy catches and kills another coon, and then builds a fire to warm up Gramps.
    • Now it's around three in the morning and the judge starts asking if they thought the dogs would be able to catch another coon. No pressure or anything, but if they don't, Billy's out.
    • But seriously, no pressure.
    • As if on cue, Old Dan starts barking. He's got a trail. They search for a while without finding it, and then Old Dan starts barking to say that he's got a coon—but Little Ann is silent, and Little Ann is the one who knows what's up.
    • So they keep on searching. One by one, everyone loses faith: the judge, grandpa, and even Billy's dad.
    • But, duh, not Billy. He's not giving up on his dogs.
    • And, big surprise, they find their third coon. Billy's going on to the finals.
    • When Billy gets back to the campsite all the hunters go crazy for him. They are super excited that he gets to compete in the final round, which is very sportsman-like and a little sweet.
    • The judge goes on and on about what good hunters the little hounds are, while Billy heads back to his tent to get some sleep.
    • He can't sleep too well, so he goes and lies down between his dogs. That does the trick, because he falls right asleep.
    • These three are inseparable, and kind of adorable.
    • Last night. None of the hunters get more than two coons, so they're all out.
    • The final round is just Billy and two other hunting teams.
    • That evening, while Billy is prepping for the hunt, a hunter stops by their camp and tells them he's been collecting a jackpot for the winner. Just about every hunter in the place is hoping that Billy wins.
    • When Billy turns the hounds loose that night, they turn and look back at him. See, they know how important this is.
    • They're on a trail almost right away. After a terrifying struggle in the water, the hounds catch the coon and before you know it Billy has his first coonskin of the night.
    • The hounds stop just long enough to lick each other's wounds (um, is that entirely hygienic?), and they're off again.
  • Chapter 17

    • The hunt is still on, but the weather's changing and a storm's a-comin'. Dun dun dun.
    • It hits almost immediately. They can hear the dogs howling about a raccoon, but can't find them through the sleet and wind.
    • Everyone wants to turn back, but Billy begs them to push on. Like a bold cowboy, his dad steps forward and says he will follow Billy. He turns to the other men and asks them to follow, too.
    • It's kind of epic and awesome.
    • The men continue to search through the storm for the dogs. They've lost all sound of them, and it's looking pretty bleak.
    • Billy's dad fires his gun to try and call Little Ann, and, hey, it actually works. (Looks like Billy may have had a point about wanting a gun.)
    • They make the long trek to Old Dan, who's treed a coon. But, oops, they lost Gramps along the way.
    • Little Ann has this covered. She doubles back and leads the men to find him. He's twisted his ankle.
    • Everyone hobbles back to Old Dan, who's still got that coon up in the tree. They make a fire, and Billy's dad starts chopping down the tree. 
    • Bam! Out jump not one, not two, but three raccoons. Jackpot.
    • Each of the dogs gets one, and the third runs away. That brings Billy up to three skins, which he's happy with.
    • But not the dogs. They run off after the third, and Billy stays to skin the coons. He wraps one of them around his grandpa's ankle, which we're pretty sure contradicts the RICE principle.
  • Chapter 18

    • The storm blows out before dawn, but then the snow comes. Great. No one ever said Billy was lucky—just incredibly stubborn.
    • Billy goes to listen for his dogs, but all he can hear is a strange whooping sound. It's the men from camp come to look for them.
    • Turns out that Billy just needs one more coonskin to win the cup, so he takes off to find his dogs and the runaway coon.
    • When Billy, and now a fairly large posse, come upon the tree, they see that the dogs are covered in ice and snow.
    • All the men are thoroughly impressed by this.
    • They build a large fire to warm the dogs and give them a nice little massage to help melt the ice.
    • Once the dogs are all thawed out, Billy scares the coon out of the tree and his dogs take care of it right quick.
    • When they get back to camp, Billy gets the gold cup and over $300 in collected prize money. This is a ton of money. Remember how it took Billy two years just to save $50?
    • Everyone goes crazy with applause at Billy winning the cup. The judge offers to send it in to get it engraved, but Billy wants to keep it so he can show his family.
    • After the brief ceremony, everyone rushes to get out of there in case another storm moves in.
    • Billy's grandpa goes with a doctor, and Billy and his dad take down the camp and pack the buggy.
    • When they get home the next night, more insanity breaks out. Sisters are squealing, giggling, and fighting over the cups. Almost everyone is in tears. It's so crazy they even forget about the prize money.
    • As they head back into the house, Papa remembers and hands Billy's mom the money. She just gets really quiet, like spooky quiet. She puts the money on the mantle and starts crying.
    • After the craziness and lots of emotional stuff, they throw a big old celebration, which means a feast.
    • That night, from his window, Billy sees his mom take the dogs two heaping plates of food. She says something to them while she pets them and then heads into the house.
    • Billy overhears his parents talking about how Grandpa needs help at the store. Billy figures he can help his grandpa during the day and still hunt at night.
    • Patting himself on the back that he figured out what they were talking about, he rolls over and falls asleep.
  • Chapter 19

    • As we enter the second to last chapter, Billy's life has settled into a routine of awesomeness. Just hunting and helping on the farm. What could possibly go wrong?
    • One night while hunting, the dogs find a trail. After treeing it a few times, Billy begins to suspect that it isn't a raccoon. He thinks maybe it's a bobcat, no biggie for his hounds to take care of, but also not worth much.
    • The fourth time they tree it, Billy senses something is wrong. Old Dan isn't barking anymore but growling.
    • He looks up in the tree and sees that it's a huge mountain lion.
    • Get ready, Shmoopers. Things are about to get serious. Oh, and gruesome—again.
    • The lion springs from the tree and pounces on Old Dan. Little Ann joins the fight and the three of them go at it, ripping each other apart.
    • Now it's Billy's turn. He rushes in with his ax, fighting desperately to save his dogs. This just kind of angers the lion, and he turns on Billy.
    • So, obviously, Old Dan and Little Ann jump between the lion and Billy, saving his life.
    • The fight goes on and on. Finally, Billy manages to land the ax deep in the lion's back. The two small hounds are able to finish him off, but not without suffering terrible injuries themselves.
    • Little Ann seems to be okay. She's cut up, but it looks like she'll make it.
    • Old Dan is another story. His sides are cut open to the bone, one eye is swollen shut, and he's slowly bleeding to death.
    • Billy stops up Old Dan's wounds with mud and hurries his dogs home.
    • Old Dan falls behind. When Billy goes back for him, he sees a horrific sight. Old Dan's entrails are tangled in a bush.
    • Yeah. We know. It's pretty awful.
    • Billy carries Dan the rest of the way home, obviously.
    • When he gets home, he wakes up his mom and dad. They go to work on both dogs, doing what they can to clean them up and bandage their wounds.
    • While they clean them up, Billy tells his parents how heroic the dogs had been in saving his life.
    • Billy is worried about Old Dan and rightly so. His breathing grows faster and faster, till he looks at Billy once and then closes his eyes forever (19.101).
    • Okay guys, quick break. We don't know about you, but we have to go find the tissues.
    • All right. Let's try to get this over with.
    • His parents try and coax Billy into bed, but he stays up staring at the fire.
    • In the middle of the night he hears a noise. Little Ann has snuck out of her doghouse to cuddle up with Old Dan.
    • This is too much for Billy to handle. (Us, too.) He takes off running and doesn't stop till he falls down in the woods. He just sits there and sobs.
    • At dawn, he walks back to the house and buries his dog. His dad offers to help but Billy wants to do it alone.
    • Things are pretty miserable for Billy, and they are about to get worse.
    • Two days later, Billy comes home from helping on the farm and his mom tells him Little Ann won't eat.
    • He starts feeding her by hand, but she doesn't respond to anything. She's not injured; she has simply given up the will to live.
    • The next day Little Ann goes missing, and Billy finds her up at Old Dan's grave. She is lying stretched out across his grave. Dead.
    • Billy's mom is there, too. She tries to explain about suffering, and why bad things happen to good people, but, you know, it's a little hard to explain.
    • He tells her he no longer believes in god. She starts crying, and they head back to the house, leaving Little Ann on the grave.
    • That night Billy's father has an announcement. Thanks to Billy's money, they now have enough to move to town, so the children can get a real education.
    • Billy is less than enthusiastic about this. Well, really, he just doesn't care one way or another. He just wants his dogs back.
    • Billy's dad explains that maybe they were taken away at this moment, so Billy could move to town. Billy couldn't do that if his dogs were still alive.
    • Unsurprisingly, Billy doesn't find this too comforting.
    • The next day, he makes another coffin and digs another grave next to Old Dan's.
    • Billy talks to his mom about heaven and wonders if his dogs are there. We sure hope they are.
  • Chapter 20

    • Jump ahead to next spring. The Colman clan are packing up their house and moving to town.
    • Before they leave, Billy goes up to visit his dogs one last time. When he gets up there, he sees that a red fern has sprouted over the graves.
    • At first he's bummed, but then he remembers an old legend.
    • Short version: two children got lost in a storm and froze to death. Charming right? Anyway, in the spring when the bodies were found, a red fern had grown up between them. The legend says that only an angel can plant a red fern.
    • Billy calls to his family and they come running. The fern blows everyone away.
    • His dad thinks this is God's way of helping Billy understand why his dogs died. And you know what? Billy does feel better.
    • Everyone gives Billy some time alone and he says a final thank you and goodbye to his dogs.
    • As they head away from the farm, Billy can see his home and the barn. On the hillside, he sees the red fern waving like a banner.
    • Everyone tears up, but the wagon just moves on. Like life. Do you get it?
    • And now we break from this beautiful image to come back to the present day.
    • Yeah, remember how this was all a flashback?
    • Billy is a grownup again, and he thinks about visiting his old home. He's never been back, but he'd like to go and wander the hills, search for his old ax, see the house and barn, and visit his dogs.
    • He knows if he goes back, the red fern will be there waiting for him.