The red sun balances on the highest ramparts of the mountains, and in its waning light, the foothills appear to be ablaze. A cool breeze blows down out of the sun and fans through the tall dry grass, which streams like waves of golden fire along the slopes toward the rich and shadowed valley.

In the knee-high grass, he stands with his hands in the pockets of his denim jacket, studying the vineyards below. The vines were pruned during the winter. The new growing season has just begun. The colorful wild mustard that flourished between the rows during the colder months has been chopped back and the stubble plowed under. The earth is dark and fertile.

The vineyards encircle a barn, outbuildings, and a bungalow for the caretaker. Except for the barn, the largest structure is the owners’ Victorian house with its gables, dormers, decorative millwork under the eaves, and carved pediment over the front porch steps.

Paul and Sarah Templeton live in the house year-round, and their daughter, Laura, visits occasionally from San Francisco, where she attends university. She is supposed to be in residence throughout this weekend.

He dreamily contemplates a mental image of Laura’s face, as detailed as a photograph. Curiously, the girl’s perfect features engender thoughts of succulent, sugar-laden bunches of pinot noir and grenache with translucent purple skin. He can actually taste the phantom grapes as he imagines them bursting between his teeth.

As it slowly sinks behind the mountains, the sun sprays light so warmly colored and so mordant that, where touched, the darkening land appears to be wet with it and dyed forever. The grass grows red as well, no longer like a fireless burning but, instead, a red tide washing around his knees.

He turns his back on the house and the vineyards. Savoring the steadily intensifying taste of grapes, he walks westward into the shadows cast by the high forested ridges.

He can smell the small animals of the open meadows cowering in their burrows. He hears the whisper of feathers carving the wind as a wild hunting hawk circles hundreds of feet overhead, and he feels the cold glimmer of stars that are not yet visible.


In the strange sea of shimmering red light, the black shadows of overhanging trees flickered shark-swift across the windshield.

On the winding two-lane blacktop, Laura Templeton handled the Mustang with an expertise that Chyna admired, but she drove too fast. “You’ve got a heavy foot,” Chyna said.

Laura grinned. “Better than a big butt.”

“You’ll get us killed.”

“Mom has rules about being late for dinner.”

“Being late is better than being dead for dinner.”

“You’ve never met my mom. She’s hell on rules.”

“So is the highway patrol.”

Laura laughed. “Sometimes you sound just like her.”


“My mom.”

Bracing herself as Laura took a curve too fast, Chyna said, “Well, one of us has to be a responsible adult.”

“Sometimes I can’t believe you’re only three years older than me,” Laura said affectionately. “Twenty-six, huh? You sure you’re not a hundred and twenty-six?”

“I’m ancient,” Chyna said.

They had left San Francisco under a hard blue sky, taking a four-day break from classes at the University of California, where, in the spring, they would earn master’s degrees in psychology. Laura hadn’t been delayed in her education by the need to earn her tuition and living expenses, but Chyna had spent the past ten years attending classes part time while working full time as a waitress, first in a Denny’s, then in a unit of the Olive Garden chain, and most recently in an upscale restaurant with white tablecloths and cloth napkins and fresh flowers on the tables and customers—bless them—who routinely tipped fifteen or twenty percent. This visit to the Templetons’ house in the Napa Valley would be the closest thing to a vacation that she’d had in a decade.

From San Francisco, Laura had followed Interstate 80 through Berkeley and across the eastern end of San Pablo Bay. Blue heron had stalked the shallows and leaped gracefully into flight: enormous, eerily prehistoric, beautiful against the cloudless heavens.

Now, in the gold-and-crimson sunset, scattered clouds burned in the sky, and the Napa Valley unrolled like a radiant tapestry. Laura had departed the main road in favor of a scenic route; however, she drove so fast that Chyna was seldom able to take her eyes off the highway to enjoy the scenery.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean