Rash captures the essence of Appalachia in stories that simplify the most basic of human relationships. In small-town Mars Hill in North Carolina during World War I, the lines are clearly drawn between the righteous townsfolk and the lonely residents of the Cove, a rocky outcrop shading the farm of Laurel and Hank Shelton. Long harried as a witch for a birth stain that marks her as devilís spawn, Laurel has lived quietly at the Cove since her fatherís death, awaiting her brotherís return form the front. Now that Hank has come homeóminus a handóhe has been dedicating himself to repairing the farm, his plans to marry not yet shared with his sister.
While at her secret place on the outcrop one afternoon, Laurel hears the delicate notes of a flute. Following the music, she discovers a stranger camping rough. Undetected, she creeps away but later has cause to come to his aid when he is nearly insensate from a swarm of stinging insects. Sister and brother take the stranger, Walter, into their shabby but clean cabin. As he heals, Laurels world alters, opening a door she has only imagined, a place reserved for those unblemished by birth stains and poverty.
A love affair blooms, one that allows Laurel to hear Hankís news of impending marriage without acrimony, lost as she is in her own happiness. It doesnít matter that Walter cannot speak. The note he carries with his name and destination and the work he has done on the farm are testament to his good intentions, not to mention the beauty of music filling the night from his silver flute. But is it wartime, and the residents of Mars Hill are awash in patriotic fervor, a local recruiter determined to stand out from the crowd and justify the time spent at home instead of on the front with other men his age. Chauncey Feith is only the loudest of a group of men who have grown up taunting the girl from the Cove, natural bullies who thrive on braggadocio and moonshine.
Not unexpectedly, the outside world imposes on Laurelís safe haven, the stranger with his flute a source of curiosity and mischief turned violent. Made bold by drink, patriotism becomes the excuse for tragedy, the shattering of Laurelís small paradise, the fruit of one manís cowardice and anotherís presence far from home. The theme is elementary and familiar, like a little girlís tea party trampled by a herd of mischievous boys, except that these are not children but grown men in pursuit of diversion and violence, the consequences of their actions seeping into the bare ground to mix with the soil and the legend of the Cove. No matter the era, in this placeóAppalachiaóRash spreads his tales of folks both ordinary and extraordinary, brave and weak, humanity resistant to change and lessons hard-learned. This is Rash territory.