Celebrated retired professor Samuel Zelinsky reluctantly leaves New Hampshire after his wife's death to visit a farm in the Kentucky hills where he lived as a child. The son of sharecroppers, Samuel has long since left that life behind—yet now he must reconnect with long-buried memories to fulfill a childhood promise to a friend.
In 1945, Sam and his best friend, Fred Mulligan, visit the Blue Hole, a legendary pool on the Kentucky River where the hill people believe an evil force lurks. Along with a couple of neighbor boys, they discover the body of a dog, surrounded by twisted human footprints—and a cave that offers further evidence that something terrible has transpired. Fearing they'll be punished for their trespasses, the boys initiate a series of cover-ups and lies that eventually leads to a community disaster.
When the Zelinskys move, Fred and Samuel promise each other that if either calls, the other will come to his aid. But Samuel's failure to keep his promise has lasting consequences he could never have predicted. Now, decades later, he confronts his failures and attempts to redeem himself, finally achieving peace through his late return to Canaan land.