Set in a future following the destruction of industrial civilization, the story is narrated by a young man who is the son of a priest. The priests of John's people (the hill people) are inquisitive people associated with the divine. They are the only ones who can handle metal collected from the homes (called the "Dead Places") of long-dead people whom they believe to be gods. The plot follows John’s self-assigned mission to get to the Place of the Gods. His father allows him to go on a spiritual journey, but does not know he is going to this forbidden place.
John journeys through the forest for eight days and crosses the river Ou-dis-sun. Once John gets to the Place of the Gods, he feels the energy and magic there. He sees a statue of a "god"—in point of fact, a human—that says "ASHING" on its base. He also sees a building marked "UBTREAS". After being chased by dogs and climbing the stairs of a large building, John sees a dead god. Upon viewing the visage, he has an epiphany that the gods were humans whose power overwhelmed their good judgment. After John returns to his tribe, he tells his father of "the place New York." His father warns him against recounting his experiences to others in the tribe, for sometimes too much truth is a bad thing, that it must be told little by little. The story ends with John stating his conviction that, once he becomes the head priest, "We must build again."