In the backcountry of Appalachia Rinthy Holme gives birth to her brother Culla's child. The brother takes the child from her as she sleeps and leaves it to die of exposure in the woods, telling his sister that the child died soon after birth. However, the child is found and taken by a wandering tinker. When Rinthy discovers the deception, she sets out to search for the child while Culla, upon returning to their cabin and finding her missing, sets out to find her first. Their paths are periodically intersected by a hellish trio of vagrants, for whose crimes the brother is blamed, and also by various strange and comical inhabitants of the backwoods. Gradually, as though foreordained by a malignant fate, the courses of Rinthy, Culla, the tinker and her child and the three killers converge towards a nightmarish conclusion.