Powder snow swirled like twin vapour trails from the wide tires as the big SUV sped along an unmarred ribbon of light snow. The clean whiteness was tinted magenta by the glow of the setting sun. Inside the cab of the high, four-wheel-drive vehicle, the faces of two women were illuminated in the warm glow from the dashboard lights. Sondra Childerhouse’s eyes were fixed on the road ahead, scanning for a landmark at the right side of the road. She was eager to find her destination before the last light left the sky. Her companion, producer and camerawoman Maris Trask dozed in the passenger seat.
Sondra Childerhouse was filled with eager anticipation about her assignment. At 28, an exclusive interview with billionaire recluse Truman Garrison could pave the way for her future as a broadcast journalist. Garrison had been in virtual hiding for ten years, and Sondra had no idea why he had decided to grant an interview. Even more confusing, why chose a young woman whose career had begun just a few years before, covering human interest stories for a local New England station.
The tall walls of thick pine forest ended abruptly and broad fields of snow spread away from both sides of the road. Sondra saw a smaller road a moment later. It led off into the hardwood forest on her right. It was plowed clean, with snow piled high on both sides. The only sign marking the turn-off was a simple, store-bought plastic one that read, “PRIVATE” in reflective letters that shone when her headlights swept across them. Sondra turned onto the small private road and followed it across the open fields into the deeper darkness of the forest. Large trees with thick trunks were silhouetted against the snow-covered rolling hills beyond.
Sondra’s headlights illuminated the clear, white trail. It wound right and left in smooth arcs until it emerged into a large open area, well cleared of snow. A small tractor with its snow blower in place stood beneath an open shelter beside a large frozen pond. A large house, Georgian style in red brick, stood at the side of the pond. Its porch light illuminated the area, and several ground floor windows and a garret window on the third floor showed light from inside. There was a small, ancient stone house on the far side of the pond. It had a faint glow in one small window and a slender swirl of smoke rose lazily into the still, night air from the stone chimney. Sondra Childerhouse followed the smooth, snow-covered driveway to the front steps of the large house.
Sondra stepped out of the car and Maris woke up. She watched sleepily as Sondra mounted the freshly swept steps to the porch. The large front door swung open and a swath of brighter light fell across the snow. An attractive, mature woman beckoned her in. Sondra stepped in with wet boots before she noticed that it was a genuine afghan carpet she was standing on. The woman took no notice of it. In the bright foyer light Sondra could see that the woman was very attractive, wearing a light tan buckskin dress with long, swaying fringes and beautifully beaded trim. She was a native woman whose steel grey hair hung in a heavy braid from the nape of her neck down her back to her waist. She swung the door closed and turned to Sondra.
“The mister has gone to his study for the evening,” she said, her ruddy face expressionless. “My name is Rainbird. Mister asked me to welcome you – with his apologies – and to make you comfortable. Accommodation for you and your camerawoman will be in the small, stone house across the pond. The house has been made warm for you. We did not know your precise arrival time so my son has stayed there to keep the fire going. There is a fully stocked kitchen for your needs, and if you do not find all that you require, please just inform me. There is an intercom for you to reach the main house. Your meals will be with the mister, here, if that’s suitable for you.”
“I hope you don’t mind that I’ve arranged it this way. You are the first guest here in many years, and I thought you could be more comfortable in the stone cottage than here in the main house. I’m sure you must be tired now, after your long drive. Tomorrow I will have my son, Darkwater, refill your firewood rack. There is electric heat, but it’s always pleasant to warm a house with the fire when it’s been unoccupied for some time.”
“Thank you,” said Sondra. She turned to leave, then turned back. “So I’ll know what the work schedule will be, is it normal for Mr. Garrison to go to his study so early every evening?” RainBird looked at Sondra for a long moment before she spoke.
“No”, she said, and opened the large front door. “Please drive over to the stone cottage. Darkwater will take your things in for you and show you around the house.”
Sondra returned to the car to find that Maris was yawning crudely.
“What’s up?” Maris said when Sondra got behind the wheel again.
“Garrison has gone to his study… whatever that means,” Sondra said. “We get to stay in that cottage across the pond. This woman’s name is Rainbird. She seems to be a native servant or housemother or something. She has a son who’s waiting at the cottage to help us unload and get us sorted out for tonight. Apparently he has an even more unique name than his mother does. He’s called Darkwater.”