Harper Paget is sent to China by McAbee University to teach in a Sino-US program. His primary interest is in pursuing the research into the inter-dimensional creatures he encountered in Star Cross Corners, Atlanta, and in continuing his investigation into the death of a Chinese-Indonesian pen pal. When the novel begins, he is attacked by an inter-dimensional entity, and this results in his being bed-ridden for weeks. He meets French instructor, Pierre, who proves to be a valuable ally in his research.

In this Chinese university of Qian Shan, Harper knows that he is being watched from a window in the next building, a dorm for Chinese teachers. He has met the real-life Geraldine, the woman who appeared in his alternate-dimension dreams while in the States. She seems, however, to be a real woman, a young Chinese teacher, and not a supernatural entity. As they grow closer, she tells Harper that she wishes she could visit him as a young man and tell him that he will turn out all right. However, the specter of his deceased wife, Pauline, who continues to visit him here in China as she did in Atlanta, warns him that he should be cautious with Geraldine.

Harper also meets Christabel, a senior bilingual student who often accompanies Pierre, and Violet, a Chinese student studying French and ready to be graduated. To the three of them and two male students who join them for lunch, Pierre explains the Chaos Theory. He tells them that how the earth, to protect itself from harm, will open “the other dimension to protect herself.” The monster, as he calls it, can pass through the dimensional doorway to “eliminate everything on earth. The only purpose is to cleanse the earth.”

Days later, in the French bistro, Harper waits while Pierre visits a nearby library. He speaks with Pauline but, of course, his recorder cannot pick up her voice. He soon learns that Pierre has been attacked in the library. However, his friend survives, so Geraldine accompanies him to the hospital to visit him. The information he gives them regarding his attacker is, unfortunately, vague.

When Pierre recovers, he returns to France during the semester break, keeping in touch through emails.

On tape, Geraldine talks about her childhood and stories her grandfather told her about witches, demons, and women who became immortal. She and Harper watch DVD movies that Lina has sent to him. While Geraldine dozes during one of them, Pauline again re-appears to tell them that Pierre is also not who he seems to be – that he has traveled to Indonesia, where the spirit of a dukun has possessed him. The last email from Pierre was false. During the next DVD movie, Harper sees a greenish sky outside and waves sloshing around the next dormitory building. Geraldine fails to see it and chides him for not being much of a man.

Christabel takes Harper to the hospital on two occasions for check-ups on his former injury. He begins to see Christabel more often on campus. In a letter to Lina, Harper writes about the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “Christabel,” which is about a vampire named Geraldine who has designs on Christabel.

James and Lily, two of Harper’s students, are watching DVDs in his dorm and decide to go to the dining hall. There they meet Christabel, and Harper acquaints her with the Coleridge poem. Suddenly, the dining hall darkens, a portal opens, and Harper is struck forcefully in the face with a metal tray. Students take him to the clinic while he bleeds profusely, telling him that it was an accident — that a female Chinese teacher slipped on the wet floor, struck a heavy transporter of food barrels, and collided with him. A nurse at the clinic tells the students to take him to the hospital. From one hospital he is taken to another that specializes in problems dealing the face and mouth.
While stitches are being sewn into Harper’s face, Christabel tightly holds his hand. Pauline’s voice in his head tells him that something else is in the room. Harper tells Christabel and his students to get out of the surgery room, but it is too late. Lily and James are thrown brutally against the wall. The surgeon sees the shadowy creature and tries to prevent it from reaching Christabel. The doctor is torn apart. Harper pulls Christabel across his body in the surgery chair and jams his metal cane into the amorphous creature’s eye. Before it fades away, it resembles Geraldine.

In the police van, Christabel rests her head on Harper’s shoulder. Pauline’s spirit tells Harper that kuntilanak version of Geraldine has taken the real Geraldine into the vortex. Both she and Pierre are now lost. Pauline tells him that he will have to search for Geraldine in his past. Harper remembers that Geraldine once told him that she wished that she could visit him as a very young man. Now he sees the unfortunate result of her wish. Pauline also tells him that she will not be able to help him further.

In the small river town of Warrick, Illinois, where Harper grew up, teenagers wait for two of their number to show up at the church for a rehearsal. Gordon and Patty are missing, and their friend Rose is worried about them. They talk about Patty’s flirting with older men and playing with an Ouija board.

At that moment, Gordon is trying to get physical with Patty against the side of the closed movie theater on Main Street. As Gordon goes to a convenience store across the intersection, Patty sees “the nearly amorphous outline of the Asian women standing in the center of what appeared to be a corridor of light.”

Pierre is back in Qian Shan after recovering in an asylum in Indonesia, but Harper, because of the notoriety created by his research, is prematurely retired from McAbee University and must relocate to a different university in northeast China. On the campus of Xin Huang College of Science and Technology, he is housed on the top floor of an old hotel with dark corridors and locked doors.

On tape, Harper describes the tuning-fork-shaped hotel structure. While watching hotel restaurant ladies cutting up vegetables, he sees that one of them, when she looks up at his fourth floor window, has a gaping hole instead of one of her eyes. This may or may not be an illusion.

In an IM conversation, Pierre tells him that no one has seen any trace of Geraldine. He adds that he is considering asking out Christabel. Harper gives him his blessings. Pierre reminds him that he is on his own in Xin Huang. Since Harper has been deserted by his spiritual support, he is well aware of this.

Days later, Pierre calls to tell him that he has now met a young American lady on campus named Patty. She claims to be from a small town in the States named Warrick. Even more startling, she has told Pierre that she met an Asian woman named Geraldine – but in Warrick – not in China. Somehow they traded places while passing through a vortex.

The Warrick Theater where this transference supposedly took place was owned by the family of Corey Braedon, a younger colleague who taught at McAbee University. They became friends because they hailed from the same small town but had not known each other while growing up. Harper emails Lina about Patty’s appearance and asks her to contact Corey Braedon at McAbee, where she still works, to inquire whether or not he knows anything about the unusual happening in their former hometown.

Pierre tells Harper that Patty is staying with him in his dorm. She is not yet ready to talk to Harper on the phone and does not know Corey Braedon from Warrick – but she does know a Lawrence Reuter from a community college near Warrick, a friend of Corey’s. Harper knows that they have to figure out a way to get Patty back to Warrick, which will be difficult since she lacks a passport, and how to get Geraldine back to China. Harper raises the question about whether Patty is a real human or a lamia/kuntilanak impersonating a human. Perhaps they merely want to drag Harper and Pierre through the dimensional doorway.

Harper has a flashback memory of when he was in the Warrick High School marching band with his friend Elbert and their girl friends Tina and Charlene. After the football game, still wearing their band uniforms, they drive out to an old abandoned mansion not far from the river. While the girls wait in the car, the boys explore an old family plot and discuss a girl named Jacky Smithton – a girl still interested in Harper at that time. They also refer to the River Witch, a name kids had for the lady who was the last to live in the old country mansion.

Thinking about this now as an older adult, Harper remembers how Jacky died in a car accident after high school. Until now, he has not made a connection between Jacky and his ancestor, Jacquema Paget, or even a girl he met on a California beach after his discharge from the Navy – a surfer girl named Jackie.

On the phone, Patty tells Harper about her experience in Warrick when she was drawn through the back door of the theater by an Asian lady into a “long tunnel – swirling all around, like it was alive – a huge tunnel.” She mentions that the Asian woman, Geraldine, told her about him. They discuss how to inform her parents that she is alive and in China. Her being without a passport is going to make their problem a little more difficult. “We’re working on it.” He tries to explain a wormhole in space, a “short cut through folded space created by electromagnetic energy.”

Pierre dines with Christabel at the French Bistro in Qian Shan where Harper had dined with each of them separately in the past. Christabel clearly does not like the fact that Patty is staying with him. Pierre does not tell her how Patty arrived there – only that she is tutoring Chinese students in English. When Pierre reminds Christabel that Harper paid for her dental bill and bought her textbooks before leaving town, Christabel criticizes Harper for falling in love with women too easily.
Pierre tells Harper that he needs to go to Warrick. Corey Braedon at McAbee is planning on doing so during the coming winter break. Geraldine, they note, is, like Patty, trapped in a foreign country without a passport or money. She needs to be rescued from Warrick and Patty needs to be sent back, even if it means she is smuggled out of China.

In bed with Pierre, Patty reads to him from her journal, including a passage based on a dream she had about Pierre dying in the snow. She also tells about a dream about three women tied to stakes as sacrifices, just like in a DVD film belonging to Harper. Christabel knocks on the apartment door. When he admits her and, finally, Patty emerges from the bedroom wearing only his robe, Pierre becomes defensive. The two girls quarrel and Patty bashes Christabel with Pierre’s large ashtray.
Pierre tells Harper that Christabel had to go to the clinic but is not seriously injured. Patty has disappeared from the campus.

Later, Harper steps into the hotel corridor outside of his room. At first, he believes that he is back in his sister’s home in Carlyle, Illinois; then he sees himself as a high school student in the Warrick High School band room. Charlene, Elbert, and Jacky join him; they are there to play in the pep band before and during the half time break of a basketball game. An Asian woman enters the band room; Harper introduces her to the others as Geraldine, a new housekeeper who is working for, and living with, his family. She has entered the band room to tell him that his parents will be waiting for him after the game. “Anyway,” Harper tells his friends after she leaves, “this woman saw Geraldine out in front of the church and tried to talk to her. Told Mom she looked lost. She said she wasn’t sure where she was. She’d been in an accident and could not remember anything clearly. The pastor in our church talked to her and, I guess, they felt sorry for her. She didn’t have any identification.” She already knew the Paget name and gave advice to the young Harper as if she knew him, telling him about his future.

Back in the present, Pierre tells Harper about a murder that had taken place off-campus – a body was found in pieces as if it had been blown apart. When Patty returns to Pierre’s dorm, she cannot say clearly whether or not she was involved in the murder. Pierre believes that she was possessed by a kuntilanak spirit – or kunti, as he calls it – and admits that he has had sex with Patty. Christabel is safe in her dorm with her friend Violet. Harper tells Pierre that he knows what happened to the real Geraldine – that she is back in Warrick at the time when he was a high school student. “We all saw Geraldine – even though, as a kid, I didn’t know who she really was.”

Harper tells Pierre that he and the girls must come to his campus. The hotel is nearly empty now. He will slip a few RMB to the manager. Pierre balks at the idea, but he asks Christabel and Violet. They are frightened enough to agree to the visit. On the train from Qian Shan to Xin Huang, Pierre sees the same one-eyed doppelganger of Geraldine standing outside the moving train window where no human could stand.

When the three of them arrive in Xin Huang, Harper, looking mysterious with his long black trench coat, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and metal cane, greets them. No sign of Patty, they tell him. He takes them to the top floor of the hotel and issues them to a room across from his. Harper actually has two rooms as his hotel suite. However, he has no kitchen and must wash dishes in the WC sink. He has a large bed whereas the room where the two girls will be staying with Pierre has only twin beds. He says he will share his bed but not with Pierre. “I don’t sleep with men,” he tells Violet.

When alone, Harper hears voices of two girls – Jackie and Geri—talking in the corridor. He sees that Pierre and the two girls are inside their room. Again, he has a vision of his sister’s house, but this time the portal takes him to the beach in California. A young Harper meets a beach girl named Jackie. He tells her that he heard her talking to a young friend named Geri about a shadow monster in a coal bin. Jackie is shocked that he knows about their conversation and believes that he has read her mind. Watching them from a nearby boardwalk is an Asian woman.

He spends the day and evening with Jackie, telling her about his medical discharge from the Navy. She spends the night and next day with him in his apartment. However, when she eventually tells him that her mother is looking for her and that she is under-age, Harper freaks out. Under duress, Jackie returns to her home.

Jackie, Harper later realizes, is the same person as Jacky Smithton, the high school friend who died in an auto accident. She is also a version of Jacquema Paget, which explains why he often envisioned his ancestor as being on a beach.

The next day, Harper discovers that the two girls staying with Pierre also heard voices of girls speaking in English in the corridor. Harper tells Pauline that these voices are out of his past. When he mentions the probable connection between Jackie, the beach girl, and Jacquema Paget, Pierre chides him for sleeping with his own ancestor.

At lunch across the street from the campus, Pierre tells them two real-life paranormal stories that frighten the girls. They discuss the possibility of Patty being a sorceress. Harper says that something is not adding up. “You say she was a murderess. Now you say they want the power of a sorceress. Who is the sorceress? Patty? Geraldine? Or . . .” Without raising his head, he raised his eyes to meet Christabel’s. “Someone else?”

Christabel is insulted by this and, back in the hotel room, berates Harper in his absence. Violet and Pierre go to the manager’s office on the first floor to obtain a five-gallon jug of water and do not return. She waits and then goes into the corridor to search for them. Suddenly she sees herself in a portal that resembles her family home. When she emerges from it, she is back in the Warrick High School band room with Elbert, Jacky, and Harper as teenagers. She has taken the place of Charlotte, Elbert’s girl friend, and is referred to as Christa. The scene is replayed with her in this role, including the moment when Geraldine comes into the band room. She is surprised that she knows the words to speak as Charlotte. She is also surprised that she recognizes Geraldine from her campus back in China.

When this vision fades, Christabel sees herself in the hotel corridor with the sound of a tapping cane growing louder. She sees a shadowy image of Harper in his long coat and wide hat. He strikes her with his cane and attempts to gouge out her eyes.

She sits up in her bed and realizes that she is alone, awakening from a dream. She is still waiting for Pierre and Violet to return with the water jug. When she goes down to the first floor to find them, she smells the strong odor of flowers. She finds the mangled body of the hotel manager whose eyes have been removed. Violet appears in the doorway of the manager’s office. Christabel tells her that Harper has murdered the manager.

Violet takes her down to the end of the first floor corridor toward the exit door. She removes her glasses to reveal that she only has one eye. She pushes Christabel through the door into another empty hotel room. As Violet assaults her, Christabel sees herself on the beach in California, witnessing the exchange between Harper and Jackie, the beach girl. As he life ebbs out of her, she is suddenly aware of something else in the room – a shadowy image of a beach girl who struggles with the kuntilanak that had once been Violet. After a moment, Pierre is in the room, helping Jackie struggle with the creature. Before Christabel swoons, she sees the three of them fade into a bluish-white gateway before it closes up.

Christabel awakens in Harper’s bedroom as Harper and a Chinese teacher named Sharon ask her if she needs an ambulance. The assistant manager and a policeman are waiting for her statement regarding what she has witnessed and the disappearance of her friend Violet.

Christabel tries to describe the struggle of the creature that had been her friend with a young woman who had been on the beach. Harper understands, saying that her description accounts for the grains of sand found on the floor of the downstairs hotel room floor. “This hotel is haunted, but not in the usual sense of ghosts. It’s haunted by thin places – places where the past and present come together, intersecting dimensions where we all can see what we think are dreams and memories.” Harper tells Christabel that Violet was one of them who “took her over sometime in Qian Shan.” Christabel explains that she saw Geraldine in a dream state, along with a young-looking Harper. She also explains that she saw someone on the beach with Harper’s name.

The policeman wants them all to come with him, but Harper is concerned about finding out what happened to Pierre.

As they are taken away in the back of the police vehicle, Harper tells Christabel that the hotel used her, just as it had used him. The hotel was a doorway, but now it should be clean. The kuntilanak presence is gone. Christabel asks about Pierre. Harper tells her that they will find him. As the police vehicle takes them through the front gate of the campus, “Christabel again rested her head on Harper’s shoulder, nudging, with her chin, the large collar lapel of his black coat.”

Harper and Pierre will return in the third novel in the series: DARK JOURNEYS.