On the Edge of the Woods Excerpt

Brand's Journal

October 22, 1993
Continued the survey today, without Ralph. Saw a woman on the Shapiro property, down in the woods, standing with her hands in the pockets of her jacket, her face tilted up, staring up at the tops of the trees, her long black hair curling and tangled down her back. Striking. I fumbled for the transit and caught her in my sight. I felt like a voyeur. She turned her face to me, black-Irish complexion, that creamy, slightly flushed pure skin, dark brows-her eyes were the thing I can't put out of my mind. Blazing, alert.

She nodded in greeting and I felt like she had turned me to stone.

January 13

The Shapiro house has been sold. They put the "sold" sign up on the property today. I want to punch a hole in the wall.

January 21

Met my new neighbor today, the one who scooped me on the Shapiro property. She's the woman I saw there in the woods several months ago. Tess brought her in for lunch. I was torn between an unreasonable resentment and an overwhelming interest in her. I wanted to be with her, but I kept saying horrible things to her. I don't think she likes me much.

Chapter One

In the strange bed in the mountain lodge, I woke from a dream. It had the emotional quality of an oracle, deep significance, like a premonition of falling in love. Later that morning, when I saw the house for the first time, I thought I knew what the dream had meant.

"Now this one is really special. Just wait till you see it."

Uh-oh. I sneaked Russ a look of alarm over the front seat of Iona's big Buick.

We passed between two stone pillars which marked the entrance of the private drive off the main road. I gazed out my window in awe as we entered an avenue of immense trees, incense cedar and sugar pine, great straight trunks thrusting straight up through the shadowy canopy of green into the sky. The trees gave way to a meadow where the drive ended in a leisurely circle. Down in a cleft of the meadow stood a stout white house with a little garden in the front, a fence of pickets surrounding it like an untidy ribbon on a package. There was a curious animation about the place - I could imagine fairies and elves making their homes in the garden and woods around the house.

"Is that it?" Russ, who was sitting in the back seat, sounded severely disappointed.

"No, no, no - that's the neighbor's place," Iona assured him. "A much smaller property."

"It seems familiar to me," I said.

"Does it?"

"But it couldn't be. I've never been here before."

"Deja vu," said Iona portentously.

"It's not the sort of house you would mistake for another," said Russ. "It's rather an odd-looking thing, isn't it?"

"It's a little white barn," I said. "I like the dormer windows. But where is the house we've come to see?"

"Just wait till you see how close it is," Iona said.

"You won't believe how secluded it feels."

"So the two houses share a driveway?" My brother Russ was a contractor, and he had that critical eye, which was why I had asked him to accompany me on a property-hunting expedition in the Sierra. Now I wondered if that had been such a great idea - he couldn't find a thing right with any of the houses we had seen.

"The two houses share the access," said Iona in her breezy Realtor's voice. "It's actually a county road, which is lucky, because they maintain the road in the winter. But otherwise it's a completely private drive."

We drove to the end of the meadow and turned off into a parking area designated by a log lying between the gravel and the woods. Parked in front of the white house was a rusty old International, a big pickup truck, and a tiny yellow sports car. If that was the neighbor's house, where was the house we had come to see? There was no real estate sign. All I could see were trees.

We climbed out of the car, stretching our bodies and breathing deeply of the cold sharp air, so clean and intoxicating, layered with the spice of pine and cedar, the sweetly decaying soil, and the winds blowing down from the high Sierra.

"Damn, it's quiet here," said Russ.

"Yes, isn't it peaceful?" Iona hesitated, took a deep breath. "Now, this one is just the craziest thing you've ever seen. Folks around here still call it The Apple Ranch - you'll see the remnants of the orchards in the back - it was once quite a large estate. The house is really not in the best condition, but maybe you could do something with it, Stacy. At such a low price, I do think it will move quickly, once the papers are in order, and that should only be a matter of days - "

"The papers - ?" said Russ.

"The lady who owns the place is very old, and recently she had to go into a nursing home," Iona explained. "And there's been some delay with the paperwork, so actually the property hasn't even been listed yet. You're lucky to be seeing it before anyone else."