It is 1939, with the world on the brink of global war, when Constable Hotchkiss confronts the spoiled, narcissistic man-child Ernie Sickert about a rash of disturbing pranks in their small prairie town. Outraged and cornered, Ernie commits an act of unspeakable violence, setting in motion a course of events that will change forever the lives of all in his wake. With Loretta Pipe--the scrappy twelve-year-old he idealizes as the love of his life--in tow, Ernie flees town. In close pursuit is Corporal Cooper, who enlists the aid of two brothers, veterans of World War One: Jack, a sensitive, spiritual man with a potential for brutal violence; and angry, impetuous Dill, still recovering from the premature death of his wife who, while on her deathbed, developed an inexplicable obsession with the then-teenaged Ernie Sickert. When a powerful storm floods the prairie roads, wreaking havoc, Ernie and Loretta take shelter in a one-room schoolhouse where they are discovered by the newly arrived teacher, Vidalia Taggart. Vidalia has her own haunted past, one that has driven her to this stark and isolated place with only the journals of her lover Dov, recently killed in the Spanish Civil War, for company. Dill, arriving at the schoolhouse on Ernie's trail, falls hard and fast for Vidalia--but questions whether he can compete with the impossible ideal of a dead man.