Prologue

It was surprisingly easy to remove the boards from the front door when she returned home [in the spring of 2003], the wood worn from the harsh Vermont winters and the gnawing humidity of its summers. The door itself proved a more difficult task, the hinges shrieking as she forced it to swing in. Once inside she was greeted with drop-cloths and an accumulation of dust she found mildly shocking in a house that had been so tightly sealed. When she later heard the field mice scratching between the walls, she realized that it was not so tightly sealed as had been alleged.

She came home in jeans and a sweatshirt, a dirty-looking white suitcase in her hand as she’d climbed the steps, and her arrival was easily noted in the little old logging town of Fells Hollow. Not much had changed in her absence, although it seemed as if everything had become a bit more faded than she recalled it being. Her little car had strained over the pitted roads, the asphalt ones cracked by budgetary neglect and blizzards, the dirt ones simply worn further down. It was a car wholly unsuitable for anything except the suburban streets she had become accustomed to driving it on, back wheel drive and all. But plans for a new car would come later.

It had caused a bit of a stir when her nearest neighbor saw her jerking boxes roughly out of the trunk of the little car, and the stir was echoed more loudly when she appeared at the general store in-town. She was still wearing the jeans and the sweatshirt, the jeans new enough to look a crisp sort of blue, the sweatshirt with the word ‘Boston Red Sox’ emblazoned in stylized letters across its front. She hadn’t set foot in the town in three years, and she’d never set foot in the town looking like that.

But they worked it out easily enough, although no one ever mentioned it directly to her or queried her, either. When she went to thank Mr. Richards for the maintenance of the field by her house – for the hay wasn’t overgrown nor had shrubbery and undergrowth begun to encroach upon it – he inquired pleasantly instead about the state of repair of the house, and deftly deflected her thanks by pointing out that he had made a bit of money off of the hay. And when she re-visited the general store, this time for nails and plaster and plywood, Mrs. Snowden only commented that she’d have to come up to the house and help scrub away some of the grime.

In fact, the closest anyone got to making any allusions to her re-arrival in town was when Rebecca Townsend, bored by her isolation from her husband’s death and the location of her shingled house along Fire Break Road by the swamp, extended an invitation to the church’s potluck dinner to her. The smile she received wasn’t quite frosty, the eyes just shy of too narrow for that, but her invitation was turned down, nevertheless.

And so it was that [Quinn] Waterford, formerly Sister Ursula of Our Lady of Peace in Lowell, Massachusetts, returned home and began a new career as a bookstore clerk in nearby [Bennington]. And whatever it was she knew about her own newfound circumstances, she did not say.

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