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Allan didn’t bother much about the field or the barn. When the mood struck him to be outside, he invariably went to sit on the front porch. Traffic on NY 231 was too sparse to annoy him, and the Compton farm across the way was as idle as his own.

That morning, he’d been sitting on his porch for about an hour, musing indifferently over a mediocre fantasy novel, when the girl ambled into view.

Foot traffic on NY 231 was unusual in the extreme. It was a truck route, a bypass for the city of Onteora. It had no sidewalks, and was flanked by no consumer-oriented stores or places of employment. It connected to US 90, forty miles to the west, but those who traveled it eastward were seldom Onteora bound.

At a distance the girl was ordinary-looking: medium height, a broad-shouldered but bosomy build, shoulder-length blonde hair. She appeared to be in her early twenties. She wore a heavy wool sweater, blue jeans, and work boots. A shabby satchel of modest size dangled from her right hand. Her walk was strong but unhurried. A surge of curiosity impelled Allan to lean forward, as he attempted to make out her face.

She noticed, stopped, and returned his gaze. Embarrassed without a clear reason, Allan smiled formally and forced his eyes back to his novel.

Any good?”

The words startled him half out of his chair. She’d approached so quietly that he hadn’t noticed her arrival on his porch, practically in his lap. She backed away a step as he resettled himself.

Not particularly. Just a way to pass the time. What can I do for you?”

I’m looking for work.” She waved at the barn and the field beyond. “Your first planting is late. Need a hand with it? I’m good with machines.”

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