Somewhere in the plains of the young U.S. State of Nebraska, 1868
The Zegners – Ma, Pa, and their two young sons Peter and Miles – have moved to Nebraska from the east coast following the Civil War, prompted by the passing of the U.S. Homestead Act, the lure of large parcels of land, and a new prosperous life in the American West. As they face drought, famine, and the loss of their two daughters, they cling to the American dream of “proving up” through land ownership.
The family tells of the official requirements needed to obtain the title to the homestead, the most elusive condition being the home must have a glass window. Johannes “Pa” Zegner, being in possession of the only glass window in the region, agrees to share it with his neighbors as a farmer’s act of generosity. Ma tends to Peter, her oldest son who has suffered an unfortunate accident.
Pa tells of rumors that an Inspector is on his way to hand out land titles, and convinces Ma to send their youngest Miles on a journey to lend the window out to their neighbors. He hopes to entice the inspector back to their land so he can finally claim ownership of their homestead.
The daughters sing from beyond the grave to reveal that Pa stole the window from the neighboring Yothers’ homestead after the family vanished without a trace. This disappearance is made even stranger since the Yothers had successfully obtained their land’s title only weeks earlier. Ma wakes at night to pray for rain and mourn the loss of her daughters. Miles secretly watches her and makes a startling discovery.
Miles begins his journey. The route is dangerous and difficult; he encounters a rainstorm that turns into a sudden blizzard. His horse, Nore, is blinded by the snow and throws Miles from her back. Miles passes out from pain and exhaustion.
Miles wakes to discover a dirty, disoriented sodbuster sitting next to him. The man holds out a copy of the Homestead Act and tells Miles that he needs the glass window to obtain his title. Miles hesitates but the man is insistent, and he eventually steals the window. Miles fights back and tries to stab the man. The man tells Miles that he knows the window doesn’t actually belong to him, that it was stolen by his father. Miles panics as he hears the malicious laughter of his dead sisters.
Ma and Pa are overjoyed as they see a figure in the distance, convinced that it is Miles returning home. Their joy turns to horror as they realize their mistake. The dead daughters return to their graves with new company. Ma and Peter are silenced as Pa stares at his own reflection in the window’s glass...