Aphelion Issue 221, Volume 21
September 2017
 
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The Voices of Angels

by Gil Miller


Harvey Wilson stepped out on the front porch of his old farmhouse and let the squeaky screen door bang shut behind him.

Do you have to do that, Harve?

He paused for just a moment, a smile coming over his face. That was the voice of Martha, his wife. Well, his late wife, to be precise. Dead five years now. They'd married when they were eighteen, and in the years between then and her death, he hadn't spent a night apart from her except for when their children had been born. He hadn't looked at another woman with interest, and he suspected that he did things he knew she'd scold him about just on the off chance that he'd hear her voice somewhere besides in his mind. He'd love to hear her voice once more.

Harvey sighed and moved over to the old cane-bottomed chair and sat down, leaning it back against the wall and looking out over the late summer Ozarks marching away into the purple distance. He'd been born and raised in these hills and he'd never had a desire to leave them. In the summer, they were dotted with green fields and the air was full of birdsong and, two or three times a year -- depending on rainfall amounts -- the smell of fresh-cut hay. Now, though, it was hard to hear the birds for the jar flies singing their strident, buzzing songs to one another. Cicadas, he'd heard them called once. But he'd grown up hearing them called jar flies, so that's what they were.

He looked out across the hills, seeing the late summer sunlight laying like a blanket over them. The trees were a uniform deep green now, not the varying shades of spring, and the fields tended toward brown. Not as bad as they were most years by now. There'd been more rain than usual this summer. If he were still farming, he'd be glad of that. It would mean another cutting of hay.

But though he still owned his land, he'd sold all his cattle not long after Martha had died, and now he leased out the fields for hay. It made him a decent little income and kept him from having to ride a tractor and take care of cows in the cold of winter. Randy, his oldest boy (and the one with the most brains, Harvey felt) had talked him into this course of action right after the funeral. It made sense. At seventy-eight, Harvey really didn't have much business taking care of cows out here all by himself. Better to let someone else cut the hay and he could sit on the front porch and watch. He'd put in his share of hours on a tractor anyway.

He caught motion out of the corner of his eye and turned his head. A rooster tail of dust on the main dirt road showed someone approaching. Harvey's eyes were still good, and it looked to be his neighbor Pete Marrs.

Harvey smiled. Pete was good folk.

Sure enough, the old blue Chevrolet pickup pulled into his driveway and, a few moments later, parked beside Harvey's Ford. Pete got out, waving and then reaching in and taking something from the seat. It looked suspiciously like a pie pan.

Harvey stood and walked to the porch railing.

"C'mon in here, Pete," he called. "Make yourself at home."

Pete Marrs was Harvey's best friend. They'd known one another since about the age of eight or so, when they'd caught frogs out of the creek behind the old one-room school at recess. They'd double-dated their wives and married only a few months apart. Then they went in together and bought about five hundred acres of land nobody really wanted and split it in half. They'd helped one another countless times over the years, harvesting the hay, branding cattle, taking them to market, all the duties that came up on a farm. Harvey had gotten the half with the old farmhouse on it, but he'd helped Pete build his house a couple of miles over, so it all worked out okay.

Pete was grinning now as he opened the gate, his dentures white against his tanned, weathered face. Harvey's smile faltered for just a moment as he took in Pete's white hair, knowing his own matched. Where had the years gone? It seemed like only a year or so ago at most they'd been catching those frogs. And now look at them, nearing the end of their lives. Damn shame.

But he wasn't about to show that twinge of sadness to his best friend. So he widened his smile again as Pete made his way up the fieldstone walk they'd laid about forty years ago. Harvey's dog, Joe, came bounding around the house and almost ran into Pete.

"Hey, Joe, how ya doin' boy?" Pete said, still grinning. He reached down to pet the dog, then came on up on the porch.

"Whatcha got there, Pete?"

"Fresh apple pie," Pete said. "June made it for you. Best one I ever ate."

Harvey hesitated as he reached for it.

"I'm not taking this from you, am I?"

Pete laughed.

"Hell no," he said. "She made me one, too."

"But that means you only get half."

"Naw. June don't like apple. Says she can't stand 'em cooked. Loves 'em raw, but don't like the way cooked ones feel in her mouth."

Harvey chuckled.

"I know what she means." He sat the pie on a TV tray he kept beside his chair. "I can't stand cherries. I like to eat a cherry cobbler after I pick the cherries out, but I can't stand havin' 'em in my mouth. Have a seat, Pete."

Both men heaved sighs as they sat down, then looked at one another and chuckled. They sat for a few minutes, enjoying one another's company as only old friends can.

"Place looks good, Harve," Pete said.

"Yeah. Randy brought me one of those new zero-turn mowers last time he was up. Sure makes cuttin' the yard easier. I still got a boy comes up and weed-eats, but Randy gave three thousand dollars for that mower and damned if I ain't gonna use it."

Pete whistled.

"Three thousand dollars? That's a lot of money for a mower."

"Yep. I told Randy he didn't need to do that, but he said he'd already bought it and he'd feel better if I was using it 'stead of my old push mower, so I took it."

"I should think so. Sure mows purty."

"Yep. That boy don't have to weed-eat as much, either."

"The flower beds look really good, Harve." Pete's voice was quiet.

Harvey felt a lump in his throat and took a minute before answering. The flowerbeds had been Martha's.

"Thanks, Pete," he said. "I try to keep 'em up like Martha did, and I find I enjoy it, to be honest. Since I ain't got farmin' to take care of anymore, it helps keep me busy. Joe here, he'll come out and lay down beside me, keep me company."

"That's good. Just don't try doin' too much in this heat."

"I'm still fit enough. But I take plenty of breaks. Don't have a deadline to meet."

"Best way to do it," Pete said, and they fell silent again for a few moments.

"Ol' Mac Johnson gonna come cut that hay?" Pete said.

"S'posed to be up next week. I called him yesterday and he said he's had tractors breakin' down and had to order a part in."

"Boy, we been down that road a time or two."

"I'll say we have."

The two men continued on for some time, talking about farming and the neighbors and them damn fools in Washington. Pete said he didn't know how anyone could be a politician and Harvey said you had to be a lawyer first, then added that it seemed to him that about the only people who wanted to be politicians were the exact people you didn't want in office. They both allowed as how it looked like Ron Paul was an exception to the rule, but somebody with that much sense wasn't going to get elected nohow. Finally, though, the talk wound down.

"Well," Pete said, slapping his leg, "I 'spect I better get back before June sends someone huntin' me down."

"No need to hurry," Harvey said as both men got to their feet.

Pete stood for a minute, looking off across the rolling hills.

"No," he said, and looked closely at his best friend, "don't guess we do at our age, Harve." He grinned. "You come on by now anytime, you hear?"

Harvey smiled back.

"I'll do that," he said, giving Pete a friendly slap on the shoulder.

"Sure is a purty day," Pete said as he descended the steps. "Even when it's hot, I love these hills."

"Me too. Reckon Heaven probably looks a lot like this."

Pete nodded.

"I imagine so," he said. "You come up to supper some night soon, Harve. June said she'd like to see you."

"I'll do that," Harvey said, and meant it. "Be up in a night or two, if you don't mind."

"Drop in any time. You know that."

"Yep, reckon I do. You take care, Pete."

"I will."

Pete walked to the gate, then turned and looked back for a moment, his eyes deep and seeming slightly moist.

"You be careful down here by y'self, Harve," he said, his voice so quiet Harvey almost couldn't hear him. "Man gets our age, he never knows what might happen."

Harvey smiled at his friend's concern.

"I will," he said. "Thanks, Pete."

Pete nodded, then turned, got in his truck, and drove away.

Harvey stood and watched after him for a long time after the dust had settled.

####

Harvey lay in his bed that night, dressed only in boxer shorts, staring at the ceiling. His bedroom window was open to let the cool night breeze in, and the sound of the katydids came through loud and clear.

He hadn't slept well since Martha had died. Over fifty years he'd slept with that woman at his side, and even after five years without her, he still missed having her there. There were many nights when he'd finally get to sleep only to roll over and wake up reaching for her. He'd thought about getting rid of their old full-sized bed and buying a twin, but he just couldn't stand to let go of that part of her. An empty spot was better than no spot at all.

Just didn't seem right for a man to have to go on living after his wife had died. Harvey wasn't a suicidal man, and he knew that his kids wanted him to stay around, even if the two youngest argued all the time about how he should be staying around. But damnit, it just wasn't right for a man to outlive the person he'd loved the most in this world. What kind of God did that to a man?

He felt guilty the minute he thought that. He hadn't been anywhere near the religious man his wife had wanted him to be. He found lots of reasons over the years to skip Sunday services, whether it be hay that needed to be got in, or deer season, or whatever. But he'd been faithful in his own way and it had always been a small sore point between him and Martha that she couldn't understand he felt a lot closer to God sitting out on a deer stand in the woods than he did in a boxed-in building. But she'd loved him enough that she didn't badger him too much about it.

Those nights in the hospital after her congestive heart failure had been the worst thing he'd ever been through. Even losing his parents hadn't equaled the anguish he'd felt at seeing his wife laying there in that strange bed suffering. And he knew enough about congestive heart failure to know that very few came back from it the same. He'd known one woman who'd not really come back at all, just sat staring at the floor or ground in front of her all day without uttering a word.

He didn't want that for his Martha.

That would be worse than death, to his way of thinking.

But oh, God, the pain of losing her!

He thought he'd been prepared for it. It was something he'd thought about off and on throughout his life. You don't commit yourself so thoroughly to someone without having such thoughts occur every now and then. It wasn't that he was being morbid. Harvey Wilson didn't have a morbid bone in his body. It was just that he believed in being as prepared as you can be for things, and he'd tried to prepare himself for the possibility of losing Martha.

Nothing could have prepared him for the reality of it, though. Nothing he could possibly conceive in his darkest hour could have prepared him for the pain he experienced when she was pronounced dead. He'd wandered through a haze for months afterward, and the only thing that had broken him out of it was his two youngest children arguing over his fate.

Randy, his oldest, lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a retired Army man double-dipping on his second career as a network administrator. Harvey wasn't real clear on what that meant, exactly, except that it had to do with computers. Harvey got along good with Randy, because Randy believed his father was fit to live on his own and had enough sense to get in out of the rain.

Abel and Mary, though... Abel was the middle child, Mary the youngest, and both of them still lived here in Northwest Arkansas, he in Springdale and she in Bentonville. Both believed that their dad needed to be off the farm, but disagreed on where he should be.

Abel thought he should be in a nice retirement community or home where he could socialize with others his age. He'd even taken Harvey to visit a couple. Harvey had come home from both visits dispirited. It wasn't that there was anything inherently wrong with the institutions, but they weren't home, weren't his farm. He didn't think he could ever get used to them.

Mary, on the other hand, for some odd reason thought he should be in a nursing home, even though he was healthy, especially for a man his age. A retirement facility was one thing, and he could see the attraction there. But a nursing home? Those were for sick people who needed around the clock care. He could take care of himself very well, thank you. He didn't need some minimum wage CNA wiping his ass for him.

He chuckled at that image.

Ah, well. He'd always thought Mary was an odd duck, God forgive him. She was his daughter and he loved her dearly, but he'd always thought there was something a little...off about her. Not that she was retarded or any of that stuff, just that she seemed to think different than most people. Harvey couldn't put his finger on it. But he didn't hate her for wanting him in a nursing home. He knew that she was arguing for what she thought was best for him, even if no one else agreed with her. Especially if no one else agreed with her.

For now, though, Randy's way was prevailing, thank God. He hadn't gotten emotional about it, had just argued reasonably and used examples of how Harvey was caring for himself more than adequately, and Abel and Mary had relented. For now. And Harvey would get to die in his own bed, he hoped.

The irony was that, as much as his two youngest claimed to love him and have his best interests at heart, he saw more of his eldest, who lived half a nation away, than he did either of those two. Mary lived a bit over forty miles away, Abel a little less, and yet they both seemed too wrapped up in their social circles and jobs to come see their dad. Randy came as frequently as work and life would permit. And often as not, he brought the grandkids with him, even though they were grown and out of the house. He'd raised a good brood.

Harvey narrowed his eyes. A noise had begun intruding on his thoughts, something coming in through the window and beginning to drown out the songs of the katydids.

Those damn kids were back.

Harvey sighed deeply.

Why couldn't kids have respect anymore? He might not farm this place like he once did, but it was still his land. He paid the taxes on it and saw to its upkeep. And these disrespectful youngsters would cut the lock, go down to the creek, and throw their parties. He knew better than to try and go down there. There were too many of them for him to handle.

But maybe there was something else he could do.

He got up in the dark and peered out his window. Sure enough, he could see the bright reflections of headlights down at the creek that ran across his property. It was a good-sized creek, and right where the kids were there was a deep pool for swimming in.

Harvey was an easy-going man. If these kids would come to him in broad daylight and politely ask his permission, he'd let them swim all they wanted. And if they'd just pick up after themselves, all the better.

But they'd go to Washington County, buy their beer and whiskey, come swim on his property in the dead of night, and leave their trash behind them. And while Harvey might be old, he wasn't a fool. He knew that they brought their girls with them and went skinny-dipping and dancing nude around the campfire they always built. It was a wonder they hadn't let the fire get out of control, down there drunk and dancing around like they did. But there must have been at least one sensible person there, because the fire was always put out before they left. The mess was always there, but at least the fire was out. That was important this time of year, even with all the rain they'd been getting.

Yep, he could hear them down there now, whooping and hollering at each other. Well, he'd just see about that. He made his way into the living room without turning on the light and found the phone. It was a cordless handset, so he took it off the cradle and went into the bathroom and closed the door. It was an interior room with no window, so he could turn on the light without alerting the kids that he was up.

He squinted for a few moments until his eyes adjusted, then dialed the sheriff's office.

"Madison County Sheriff's Office, may I help you?"

"Yeah, this is Harvey Wilson. I got some kids trespassin' on my property and having a party down at the creek. Could you send somebody out here please?"

"Harvey Wilson, you said?"

"Yep."

"One moment please."

Harvey stood there in the bathroom, his old man's paunch stretching the waistband of his boxers, waiting for the young lady at the other end to come back on. Should he maybe have dialed 911? Would that have gotten a better response? He wasn't sure, to be honest. He didn't see it as the kind of emergency that warranted a call to 911.

"Mr. Wilson?"

"I'm here."

"Could you tell me where you live please?"

He gave her the address.

"Thank you. We'll have a deputy out there as soon as possible, sir."

"Thank you," he said, then hung up.

He knew it wouldn't do much good. He was just an old man and they wouldn't get in any hurry, he was sure. Maybe he'd be wrong. He loved this county. He just wasn't too sure about the politicians that ran it. But then, as he'd told Pete earlier that afternoon, he wasn't sure about any politicians, so it wasn't like he was singling anybody out.

He chuckled to himself, then turned out the light and let his eyes re-adjust before he took the phone back to the living room. He padded into the bedroom and looked out the window again.

The noise was, if anything, louder than it had been before he'd made his call. Probably the beer was really flowing down there now. He could see the flicker of firelight on the underside of the leaves, and he just hoped that whoever it was made sure the fire was kept under control was back down there again tonight.

He shook his head and, with a sigh of regret, closed the window and drew the curtains shut. But even with these actions, he knew it was going to be a long night.

####

The morning dawned cool and hazy, with a low fog hugging the ground. The birds sang like they did every day, taking advantage of the early morning coolness to get their business done. Harvey walked across the pasture to the creek, carrying a trash bag in one hand with two more tucked in the back pocket of his overalls. He'd come down with his pickup later and get the bags, but right now he just didn't feel like breaking the peace of the morning with the sound of an engine.

He'd heard the kids finally leave out around three o'clock. He didn't like the idea that they were driving home drunk, but likely they'd stick to the dirt roads and be all right. Most of these country kids were well practiced at that kind of thing, at least the ones who liked to party like that.

No sheriff's deputy had ever showed up.

Well, it had been Friday night. They were probably busy with more important matters, like making sure to run the kids off the square so people in town could sleep.

The grass was heavy with dew and the legs of his overalls were wet by the time he got to the gate leading to the creek. He paused there for a minute and looked at the empty beer cans laying everywhere. The gravel bar was churned up and the water had the look it got after it had been stirred up and muddied a bit, then settled back. The fire was out, though, and contained in a fire ring of large stones situated in the middle of the gravel bar. He breathed a silent thanks to whoever it was in that group that had that much discipline.

There didn't seem to be as many cans, either. From what he could see, he might only need one of the bags he'd brought with him. Well, that was all right. He hadn't really wanted to spend the day picking up after them, and this way maybe he could be done before it got hot.

With a long-suffering sigh, he opened the gate and got to work.

####

The litter was picked up and Harvey was standing at his gate, wondering whether it was worth his time to go into town and buy another lock when he heard the crunching of tires on gravel. Turning toward the house, he saw a deputy's cruiser pulling into his driveway. He looked at it for a moment, thinking about people who were a day late and a dollar short, then sighed, propped the trash bag against the gatepost and made his way to where the deputy was just getting out of his car.

"Mr. Wilson?" the man said, consulting a small notebook.

"Yep, that's me," Harvey said, sticking out his hand. "Harvey Wilson."

The deputy looked at it for a moment as if not sure what to do, then shook Harvey's hand.

"Deputy Mike Farmer," he said. "You called last night about some people trespassing on your land?"

"Yes sir, I did," Harvey said. "But they're gone now."

"Sorry about that, sir. There was a big meth lab bust happening about that time and two of the guys got away. We had the entire on-duty staff working on that."

Harvey shook his head.

"I seen pitchers of folks been on that meth," he said. "Cain't understand why anybody'd get mixed up in that. You catch 'em?"

"Yes sir, we did. Or they did. I was off-duty."

"Well, I don't think these kids are doin' anything like that," Harvey said. "They drink though, I can tell you that. Just got through pickin' up their leavin's."

Farmer's eyebrows went up.

"This is a dry county, Mr. Wilson."

"Yes sir, I know that. I figger they go over to Fayetteville -- " he pronounced it "Fedvul" -- "and get their beer. Maybe to Berryville." It came out "Barevul."

Farmer nodded.

"And can you show me where they have their parties?"

"Sure can. Right this way."

He led Deputy Farmer down to the gate, showed him the cut lock laying there on the ground, then the gravel bar. He'd left the fire ring just the way it was, though he'd cleaned up everything else.

"I've found some underwear down here, socks, things like that," he told Farmer. "I figger they get to drinkin' and go skinny-dippin', maybe dance around the fire. They don't do it very often, but it's always after dark before they show up. I came down here first time it happened, but there's too many of 'em for me to handle."

"That's probably a wise choice, Mr. Wilson. Most people who try to defend themselves this way only get hurt."

"Oh, I know that," Harvey said. "I wasn't so much tryin' to run 'em off as see who they was. Didn't recognize any of them, though."

"And you've lived here a long time, haven't you?"

"All my life."

The deputy nodded, then walked around, looked at the pool and the fire ring, wrote down a few notes, then surveyed the site once more.

"Well, there's really not much here to go on," he said, coming back to where Harvey was standing.

"Naw," Harvey said. "They usually only leave the beer cans. I just come down here and pick 'em up." He chuckled. "Take them and sell them, make a few pennies off of them. Sometimes enough to buy a new lock."

The deputy chuckled and the two men turned and walked back through the gate and to the cruiser.

"There's really not a lot I can do at this point except write up a report," Farmer said when they got back to the car. "The ground is too messed up to get any tire tracks, and that's mostly TV stuff anyway. Wouldn't do us much good here." He paused, gazing back in the direction of the creek. Then he turned to Harvey. "If they come back, call us, Mr. Wilson. It's not usual for us to take this long to respond. We'll get somebody up here."

Harvey nodded, then stuck out his hand.

"Thanks Deputy," he said. "I 'ppreciate your time."

"That's what I'm here for," the deputy said with a smile, then he got into his car and started it. "You have a beautiful place here, Mr. Wilson. I'd like to have one like it someday."

Harvey turned and looked out over his fields and at the view of the hills rolling off like a rumpled green blanket into the distance. Then he looked back at the deputy.

"I've lived here over fifty year," he said. "Cleared some of the fields myself. Raised my kids here. I wouldn't trade it for nothin'."

Farmer smiled.

"I understand that," he said. "You take care, Mr. Wilson."

"You too, son," Harvey said, returning the smile.

The deputy turned his car around and drove off.

####

"Hello?"

"Hi, Dad."

"Randy? Well, I'll be. Never expected this."

"Why not? I call pretty regular."

"I know. Just seems like you do it when I least expect it, that's all."

"Well, I have to keep you on your toes. How are you doing?"

"Oh, just fine. Just got through eatin' a piece of June's apple pie she sent down to me."

"Oh, man. She always made good pies. I may have to come visit just to get one of her pies."

"I'm sure she'd make you one."

"I'm sure. How's that mower I bought you doing?"

"Just fine. Pete said the place looked good. The boy who comes up here to weed-eat don't have as much to do anymore though."

Randy chuckled.

"How is everybody there?" Harvey said.

"We're, um, fine."

There was a pause.

"Is there something you're not telling me?"

"Well," Randy said, then paused.

Harvey could hear something in his voice, but he didn't think it was bad news. What could it be?

"How about I just let you talk to Bobbie?"

Bobbie? That was Roberta, his granddaughter. What was this all about?

There came the noise of the phone shuffling and shifting hands, then Bobbie came on.

"Grandpa?"

"Hiya, Bobbie."

"Hi, Grandpa!"

He could hear the smile in her voice. Something had her really happy.

"How are you, Bobbie?"

"I'm...Grandpa, are you sitting down?"

"Well, yes I am. At the kitchen table."

"I'm pregnant, Grandpa."

For a moment, Harvey wasn't sure what to say. He could remember feeling a lot like this when Randy had announced that Meredith, his wife, was pregnant with their first child. But now, here was that child telling him she was pregnant. Where did the years go?

Then he felt a twinge of sadness that Martha couldn't be here for this. Their first great-grandchild.

But best not to let Bobbie hear that.

"Grandpa? Are you there?"

"I'm here, Bobbie. You're right, good thing I was sittin' down. Wow, that's good news."

"Yeah, Jerrod can't stop grinning."

Harvey laughed.

"That's the way it is, sweetheart. A man really feels like a man when that happens."

It was Bobbie's turn to laugh.

"I'm happy for you, Bobbie. When's it due?"

"Um, May sometime, they think. The doctor didn't really want to pin it down yet."

"Oh. Well you haven't been pregnant that long, then."

"No, they weren't really even sure till today."

"Well that's great."

"Okay, I'll let you talk to Daddy again."

"Okay sweetheart. I love you."

"I love you too, Grandpa. Bye."

The phone went through its shuffling thing again, and then Randy came back on the line.

"It's me again."

"Well, listen to the proud Grandpa."

Randy chuckled.

"Yeah, you could say that." He paused, then said in a quieter voice, "I just wish Mom could be here for it."

Harvey swallowed the lump in his throat. Even so, his voice was a little uneven when he spoke.

"Me too, Son," he said. "Me too. But she wouldn't want us mopin' over it. She'd want us to be happy about it, and I am."

"So am I, Dad."

They sat in silence for a few moments.

"Have you told your brother and sister?" Harvey said then.

"Not yet," Randy said. "We wanted to tell you first."

"Well I appreciate that. I really do."

"Not a problem, Dad."

"How's everybody else?"

"Happy about the news. Meredith can't seem to stop smiling about it, and she acts like Bobbie shouldn't even be walking around by herself now."

Harvey heard a mock indignant "Randy!" in the background and smiled. He'd always liked his daughter-in-law. So had Martha.

"Well, I'm happy for all of you, Son."

"Thanks, Dad. How are things there?"

"Okay. Had those kids down at the creek again last night. Called the sheriff's but they didn't send anybody till this morning. He said they'd busted a big meth lab somewhere and everybody was on that."

"I can't understand using that stuff."

"Me either," Harvey said. "I ain't about to take something made from stuff I clean my kitchen floor with."

"And worse than that, Dad."

"I know. I read some stories about it in the paper a few years back. Seen something on TV, too. I cain't figger people doing things like that to themselves. I told the deputy that this mornin'."

"I can't either, Dad."

They continued to talk of things, different concerns they'd had. Randy had been in the first Gulf War and was concerned at what he was seeing there now. He didn't much agree with the president's plan of announcing a date to pull out of Iraq, but agreed that Afghanistan needed as much attention as it could get. He saw plenty of boys coming home from over there at Ft. Bragg, and he'd talked to friends who were still in and knew what it was doing to the soldiers. He was glad to see the Army was finally facing up to the psychological problems war caused.

Harvey listened to his son's concerns. He'd never been in the service himself. He'd been too young for World War II, too old for Vietnam and didn't get called up for Korea. From some of the things Randy had told him, he was just as glad. As much as men fought one another, he'd come to the conclusion that war was not good for anyone, even though he knew sometimes there was no other recourse. If anyone had tried negotiating with Hitler the way they did with this Iranian guy whose name he couldn't pronounce, he had no doubt a lot of the world would be speaking German right now.

But he supposed that was the way of the world now, and there was little an old hillbilly like him could do about it.

Finally, though, they hung up with promises of a visit soon.

Harvey sat there for a long time, his hand on the phone, staring out the window and listening absently to the jar flies. The sun was shining brightly, not a cloud in the high blue sky. Bobbie was pregnant, about to make him a great-grandpa, and he was happy about that, yet sad. Bittersweet, he believed the word was. Why couldn't Martha be here to share in this?

I am, Harve.

He started, looking around.

"Martha?"

Don't start talking out loud, you foolish man. People will think you're crazy.

He smiled. Yes, that sounded like Martha. Could she really be talking to him, though?

You didn't think I'd ever completely leave you, did you?

Harvey closed his eyes and smiled. Her voice sounded like an angel's. Just as it always had to him. He didn't know if this was real or just his imagination, but he didn't care. It sounded so good to hear her voice.

He sat there into the late afternoon, his eyes closed as the jar flies sang their late summer song, and he never felt the tears that coursed down his cheeks.

####

"Oh, my. I can't eat another bite," Harvey said, pushing himself back from the table. "June, you made another fine meal."

"Why thank you, Harvey," June said, beaming. "But are you sure it ain't just that you've been eatin' too much of your own cookin'?"

Harvey chuckled.

"Well, now, that may be," he said. "I ain't a bad cook m'self, but a man gets tired of his own cookin'."

June Marrs rose from the table and began gathering up dishes. She was a petite woman who kept a very neat house. It wasn't the kind of neat that made you afraid to touch anything, just the kind that let you know she took care of her house and took pride in doing so. This was the signal for the men to move into the living room.

They sat in silence for a few minutes as they let their meals digest. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits, meat gravy, blackberry cobbler for dessert, it had been quite a meal. More than Harvey had had in quite some time. He wasn't a bad cook. After all, Martha had taught him. But it was good to eat someone else's cooking, especially when that someone else cooked as good as June did.

"Heard a bit of good news earlier," Harvey said after the two men had rested from their table labors for a bit.

"Oh, yeah?" Pete looked over at him. "What was it?"

Harvey couldn't keep from grinning. He felt a little bit like a father all over again.

"Bobbie's havin' a kid," he said.

Pete sat up, eyes wide.

"What?"

"You heard me, you old coot," Harvey said, trying to keep from laughing at the expression on his friend's face. "My granddaughter's havin' a kid."

Pete just stared at him for a moment.

"Well, I'll be -- June, did you hear this?"

"What's that, honey?" June said, coming in from the kitchen.

"Go on, Harve. Tell her."

"Bobbie's havin a baby come May," Harvey said, and the grin felt foolish on his face, but he didn't care.

June's eyes lit up.

"Well, Harvey Wilson, that's just great! May, you said?"

"That's what they're sayin'. The doctor don't want to pin a date down just yet, but they're figgerin' May. Randy called me this afternoon."

"He sound like a proud grandpa?" Pete said.

"He sure did," Harvey said. "He had Bobbie get on the phone and tell me, but I talked to him a bit after and you could tell he was happy. Oh, June, he said they're gonna come up for a visit soon and he wants a piece of your apple pie."

"A piece?" she said, putting her hands on her hips. "I'll bake him a whole pie!"

Harvey laughed.

"I figgered that," he said.

June beamed at him for a moment more, then turned and went back into the kitchen.

"The years is goin' by too fast, Harve."

Harvey looked over at his friend. Pete was a small man, standing probably five feet, nine or ten inches, and he'd always been slender, unlike Harvey who was closer to six feet and a bit broad in the chest and shoulders. Pete had something of a sad look on his face now, and Harvey really noticed the signs of age on his best friend's face. Did he look that way too? He knew he had to. Most of it came from exposure to the elements over the years. Farming wasn't always an easy or kind occupation. But it had a satisfaction to it that Harvey wasn't sure he'd be able to find anywhere else.

"Yes, they are, Pete," Harvey said after a moment. "They most surely are."

"You an' me, we ain't long for this Earth."

"No, we ain't. And I'm glad of it, sometimes. Don't like the way the world's a-gettin'. Feel like it's run off and left me behind these days."

"We had us a good life though, Harve," Pete said. "All our kids growed up to be good people, for the most part, and we didn't lose none of 'em like some folks does. God surely has blessed us."

"He has at that," Harvey said. He looked at Pete, looked deep into his friend's eyes. "I'm gettin' ready to go home though, Pete. I'm gettin' real tired."

Pete returned his gaze for a moment, then shook his head.

"Don't talk like that," he said. "You got a great-grandbaby comin' now. You want to see that, don't you?"

"I s'pose so."

"But you miss your Martha."

"I miss her terrible, Pete. It's like a part of me is gone and it ain't ever comin' back." He paused. "I never was as good a church man as she wanted me to be, Pete, but I been givin' it lots of thought lately. I b'lieve there's a God and a Heaven, an' I don't care what these fancy politicians and such say about it. I cain't look around at all there is in this world an' think it all come about by chance like they say. An' I believe my Martha is up there, and I'm gonna be with her someday soon."

There was a deep sympathy in Pete's eyes.

"I cain't imagine what it must be like," he said. "I ain't gonna lie and act like I can. I just cain't imagine what it would be like to be without June."

"It's a kick in the gut every day," Harvey said. "Like some mule just hauled off and kicked you right in the gut, and the hurt don't go away. Why would God do that to a man, Pete?"

"We don't always know why God does what He does," June said from the door to the kitchen.

Harvey and Pete whipped around to see her standing there, leaning against the doorframe and absently wiping her hands on a towel. When she saw she had their attention, and Harvey's in particular, she straightened up and looked him in the eye.

"God has His reasons," she said. "We aint' always meant to know what they are. But He'll never put more on us than we can take. He promised us that in His word."

Harvey looked at her for a moment, then shook his head.

"I don't know, June," he said. "This is an awful lot."

"I know it is, Harve," she said, her voice full of love for this lifelong friend. "I know you hurt. I miss Martha more than I can say. She was my best friend. We went through as much together as you an' Pete did. I don't know why God took her from you, Harvey, but I know He had His reasons."

"He's a tough God, you ask me," Harvey said.

"He is," June said. "He never promised us an easy time this side of Heaven."

Harvey looked at her for a moment, then turned and settled back in his chair.

"Then maybe it's about time I was movin' on in that direction," he said. "I'm gettin' mighty tired of what I been puttin' up with here."

June moved up beside him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"I think maybe we'll all be goin' there soon, Harvey. I don't think any of us is long for this world now."

"Amen," Pete said.

####

The sun had gone down behind the far ridges, leaving an orange light high in the sky, when Harvey got out of his truck. He stood there for a minute in the deepening gloom, taking in the gathering night. It was that quiet time when the jar flies had stopped singing but the katydids hadn't taken their place yet. All he could hear were some crickets chirping softly in the weeds.

He looked up at the early stars coming out in a sky that was turning purple, and marveled once again at the beauty that was all around him. In all his years here he'd never grown tired of the vistas he saw every day. He didn't always have time to stop and admire the landscape around him, but he never stopped appreciating it.

It was one of the reasons he was glad to be from Madison County. Neighboring Washington County had fallen to developers. Of course, there were a lot of weedy, empty housing developments there now, with streets begun and not finished, and utilities that went to nothing, thanks to the recession. But here in Madison, at least in this part of it, those developers had yet to appear. Largely rural and given over to farms of one kind or another, it was still a common occurrence to get stuck behind a tractor on the highway or see them being hauled on flatbed trailers to be worked on. Weather and its vagaries still played a very important role in people's lives here.

But he knew that, once the economy picked up again, there was the real possibility that a lot of this would be disappearing soon. Another reason to be glad his life was almost over. He wasn't sure if he could stand to watch the farms and rural communities give way to housing developments and strip malls.

He stood there for a few moments longer, looking up at the sky and following the blinking lights of a jet going by high overhead, remembering a time when he wouldn't have seen that kind of thing. So much had changed in his life that it was really hard to fathom. From getting entertainment through an old radio to getting it through a satellite dish. And who could have dreamed of something like the Internet? That was a concept he just couldn't fully grasp.

Heaving a deep sigh, he moved toward the dark bulk of his house and another long, lonely night.

####

He hadn't been in bed long when he heard the noises start up again down at the creek.

Of all the --

He lay there for a few minutes, so mad that he couldn't move. A part of him knew that this was unusual, that these kids didn't normally come back two nights in a row. But most of him was just irritated that they had.

He finally roused himself and peered through the open window. Sure enough, he could see the headlights shining down there and hear the music starting up. He knew he couldn't go down there, not at his age, but a part of him wished he could. He watched for a few more minutes, then decided that it was time to make a phone call again. And hope they weren't breaking up another meth lab.

But then, just as he was straightening up, something curious happened: the noise stopped.

For just a moment, he froze, poised on the point of indecision. The sudden cessation of noise had taken him by surprise, so it took a moment for him to mentally adjust. But when he did, he got curious and bent down to look through the window once more.

Nothing.

Well, no, not exactly "nothing." He could see the headlights still shining down there, but the music wasn't blaring and trying to drown out the katydids. Puzzled, he stood looking and then suddenly heard the sound of slamming doors and racing engines. All the headlights seemed to line up then and he watched as three vehicles -- they all looked like pickups -- filed out of the creek and made their way down the dirt road at a pretty good pace.

What in the world?

He turned and put on his overalls in the dark, being sure to don a shirt as well. He didn't want to get eat up by mosquitoes. He sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled on his boots, lacing them up by feel. He made his way to the kitchen and got a flashlight out of the cabinet, then stepped out the back door, holding the light at his side but not turning it on, and looked down toward the creek.

It was quiet and dark there. All around him he could hear the katydids singing, and he felt a slight breeze on his face. Off in the distance, all but drowned out by the insects, a pack of coyotes called out to one another, their high, yipping voices echoing through the hills. And down at the creek, everything seemed to be normal.

He stood there for a few more minutes, debating whether he should walk down there or not, then decided against it. No particular reason. It just didn't feel like there was any need. He shrugged his shoulders and turned away. Just as he did, he thought he saw a flash of light out of the corner of his eye.

He stopped. Turned. Looked back.

Nothing.

He stared into the darkness, his eyes straining, but couldn't see anything. Had he seen it, or was it just his imagination? Maybe even a reflection of some kind? The katydids went on singing into the night and the stars twinkled overhead. More movement distracted him and he looked up to see the silhouettes of bats against the sky.

Bats.

He looked back in the direction of the creek, but could see nothing.

Ah, what the heck, probably just his eyes playing tricks on him.

Still, he stood there staring into the dark for a few moments more, and when nothing happened, turned and went back in the house, closing the door quietly behind him. He stood there in his kitchen for a minute, listening to the sound of his own breathing and the muffled katydids outside, wondering what had made the kids leave like that. But then he decided that it was better to just take advantage of it. He put the flashlight back in the cabinet, went to his room, undressed and got into bed. Thankfully, sleep came rather quickly.

####

Sunday passed quietly, and Harvey spent most of it sitting on his porch watching the world go by. He listened to the drone of a distant airplane, and once heard a helicopter, a sound that he once wouldn't have heard at all but that was becoming more common.

After lunch, he decided to walk down the creek and look at things in the daylight. The sun was hot, just like yesterday, but he realized there was a subtle difference now. Even though it was still August, it felt more like late September. A change had come to the air, a feeling of autumn, and he wondered that it was so early this year. The jar flies were still singing, but in amongst their song he could hear a louder chorus of crickets now. Not nearly so prevalent as they would be this fall, but the season was slowly beginning to change. He could feel it.

He found nothing unusual at the creek. It was just the way he'd left it yesterday when he and the deputy had inspected it. No new beer cans, and the gravel bar didn't look significantly different. He fancied that he might be able to see some fresher tire tracks, but like the flash of the night before, that could be just a trick of his eyes. He wandered around a little, looking the place over, but there was really nothing new to see, so he headed back to the house.

On the way though, he made a sudden decision and changed paths to walk behind the house and go out to the barn. He wasn't sure why the impulse had hit him, but he followed it.

The barn hadn't been there when he bought the place. It had been one of the projects he and Pete had worked on in those early days. And though it was old, it was still sound. He walked into the big main section in the middle, smelling the rich scent of hay that would never completely leave the building. There was still some lose hay on the floor, and a few bales stacked against the back wall. But they'd changed to using round bales years before, only doing a few of the old square bales each season for mulching the garden and flower beds. The large round bales were just easier to handle.

Yellow beams of sunlight slanted in through the gaps in the slats, and he could hear barn swallows flitting around in the rafters overhead. Sound was muffled in here, with the hay laying everywhere, and the air was still. Dust motes floated lazily in the rays of light, and it felt hot and stuffy. Not much in here to look at, though.

Except for his old tractor.

It was an old Ford Dexta. 1962. A small tractor, not good for much on a modern farm. But it had been his first, and even as he'd sold off the newer ones when he decided to retire, he couldn't quite bring himself to get rid of this one. It had a three-cylinder Diesel engine and was painted blue. He'd heard they had actually been made for Ford in England, but he wasn't sure about that. All he knew was that it had been one tough little tractor. The battery was probably dead on it right now, but he knew if it wasn't, the little machine would start right up. Sometimes it took starting fluid these days, especially if the weather was cold, and the hour gage had stopped working long ago. But the working heart of it was still strong, and he'd used it to rake hay for the baler.

He ran his hand over the narrow hood affectionately, admiring the blue paint. Someday some collector would drool over it. He'd taken good care of it, as he did all his machinery, so it was mostly in good shape. A small oil leak from the crankcase, and the defunct hour gage, but that was pretty much it. He'd had to weld one fender back on several years ago, but it held well. He'd put in a lot of hours on this little tractor and couldn't bear to part with it.

One memory came to the fore. Close to one of the fences that adjoined a neighbor's property, a huge old oak tree had died. Rather than have to repair the fence, Harvey and Pete had cut the tree down, using it for firewood. They left the stump for a couple more years to let the roots die out, then they took the little Ford down there one day to pull it out of the ground.

It was really too small for the job, but that was before either man had been able to acquire a bigger tractor. They hooked up a chain and Harvey put it in low for pulling power and let out on the clutch.

The tractor stood up on its rear wheels, but never even hinted that it wanted to quit.

It took them two days to pull that stump, and another day wrestling it onto a trailer and hauling it to an old gulley they were slowly filling in, but they got it done. Harvey would pop the clutch and the tractor would heave at the stump, moving it a little each time. Harvey milked the clutch carefully so the tractor wouldn't walk over on top of itself, and they eventually teased that huge stump out of the ground.

He smiled now, all these years later, as he stood in the stuffy barn on a late August afternoon looking at the Little Tractor That Could. They'd called it that often after that episode, after the children's story about the train. And Harvey had always been proud of that little tractor. He'd been offered a pretty good sum for it at the auction five years ago, but had refused. The man who made the offer was disappointed, but he understood when Harvey explained. He'd handed Harvey has card anyway, and it was still in a small recipe tin in the kitchen. He wondered absently if the man would still be interested after all this time. Not that he was going to call him. He'd kept the card mainly for when he died, then Randy or one of the other kids could call the guy and sell the tractor.

Feeling a little bit like an idiot, he climbed up into the seat. He made sure the kill switch was pushed in, opened up the throttle a bit, then pushed down on the lever to engage the starter. To his surprise, the tractor cranked slowly a couple of times, the picked up the pace and, a moment later, fired up.

He smiled, his dentures showing white in the partial gloom of the barn, and let the tractor warm for a few minutes. It had a habit of surging until it reached operating temperature, a good way to know when it was ready to go. With the weather so warm, it didn't take long. In just a few minutes, the little three-cylinder engine (which, if Harvey remembered right, put out all of about 37 horsepower), was purring smoothly. He got off the tractor and opened the main doors wide, then got back on and drove out of the barn.

There weren't any implements left for the tractor, so he couldn't accomplish anything. But that wasn't the point. He wasn't sure if there was a point. He just rode around the place on his old tractor, feeling the wind blowing in his face again as he bounced through the fields and meadows, and the sun was lowering in the sky when he finally parked the Dexta in its place in the barn again. He felt exhilarated and happy, so it had been worth it.

He stood there in the barn, listening to the cooling tick of the engine and looking at the old tractor for a few minutes more after he parked it. Then, with a parting stroke of affection, he turned and, closing the main doors firmly behind him, made his way to the house and had supper.

####

For a few moments, Harvey wasn't sure what woke him up. He lay there in the dark, staring at the ceiling and trying to gather himself mentally. Seemed like it took a lot longer these days.

He'd left the window open, and a cool breeze wafted in, stirring Martha's lace curtains. In fact, it was downright nippy, especially for August. But he remembered how it had seemed so fall-like earlier in the day, that subtle shift that said the end of summer was coming. It seemed that sign was still there, riding on a chilly night breeze.

Stirring himself, he got out of bed and went to the window to close it. No sense in catching a cold. Summer colds were the worst, anyway. He elbowed the curtains out of his way and grabbed the window frame and then paused, his eyes going wide.

There were lights playing down at the creek.

Those dad-burned kids were back again! Couldn't they show a man a little respect?

But wait a minute.

He cocked his head to one side, listening. Despite his age, his senses were still good. He only wore glasses to read, and he hated talking to most other people his age because he felt like he was getting yelled at all the time. Most of them couldn't hear good and had to talk loud to understand themselves. But not Harvey.

What he was hearing now puzzled him. It wasn't the loud, bass-heavy music those kids had been playing. It was sweet, and lilting and reminded him of Martha singing her hymns as she went about her work. She'd been a great singer of hymns.

But this was different, too. Softer. More pure.

His brow wrinkled in a mix of concern and curiosity, Harvey looked toward the creek again. The light down there was different, too. Not the artificial glare of headlights, or the flickering of the campfire. The light that reflected off the swaying leaves was the whitest light he'd ever seen, and yet it was soft and pleasing to the eye.

Leaving the window open in case something should change, Harvey began dressing, just as he had the night before: work shirt, overalls, boots laced up good and tight. Once this was done, he went to the kitchen and retrieved the flashlight from its place, then went out the back door. He had a fleeting thought that he maybe should take his gun, but it was gone almost before he recognized it. For some reason, he knew there was no danger here.

He closed the wooden door and the screen quietly behind him, then paused on the step, listening to the night. It was too chilly for the katydids. Only the crickets chirped quietly to themselves and, far off, the sound of a car on the highway drifted through the cool night air. Other than that, there was an almost reverenced hush pervading the dark.

On a sudden impulse, he set the flashlight down on the step.

The light was still shining down at the creek. Harvey had lived on this farm for fifty-plus years and he'd never seen anything quite like it. Hesitantly, and then with more confidence, he moved across the yard, making for the drive that led down to the creek. Off to the side, he could see the dark bulk of the barn outlined against the stars and smiled a bit as he thought of his tractor riding earlier. But even that thought left his mind quickly.

Something was waiting for him. Something important.

He moved into the lane and paused there, suddenly afraid. He looked back at the house, the white clapboard siding glowing faintly in the darkness, then up at the sky. The limbs of the huge old oak tree in the front yard swayed gently in the night breeze, and he heard a bird chirp sleepily to itself in the branches. For some reason, a lump rose in his throat, and the thought of Pete and June, of Randy and Bobbie and Meredith and all his family crossed his mind. Without even realizing it, he reached a hand up and wiped tears away from his eyes.

"Good-bye," he whispered. "I love you all."

It felt like that message went out through the darkness, traveling across the night sky like the jet he'd seen, high and fast, reaching out for its destination. He stood there in the lane a moment more, looking back at the house, then turned away and moved toward the creek, all other thoughts leaving his mind.

He moved through the darkness with a sure-footedness that could not be accounted for even by fifty years of familiarity. It was as if some unseen hand was guiding him. He didn't kick a single gravel or stumble over a clump of grass. He planted his feet firmly and surely, as if he were walking in broad daylight.

One more pause when he reached the gate, and a fleeting moment of uncertainty.

No. This was right. This was meant to be. Whatever "this" was.

He opened the gate and stepped through.

####

It was as if he had stepped through the gate and into another world. He moved forward, feeling and hearing the crunch of creek gravel beneath his feet, but nothing else was as it should be. And yet he was hard-put to define how it was different.

The creek was still there. He could see the water glimmering in the darkness. But that darkness did not seem so complete as it should have been. He stopped, puzzled, and looked around. Where had that light he'd seen from the house gone to?

It sprang up suddenly around him, so quickly that he had to squint against its sudden glare. He threw a hand up in front of his eyes and, as he did, the sound of the lilting music came to his ears again.

Unsure of himself, but feeling confident he could see now, Harvey slowly lowered his hand and looked around.

At first, all he could see was the ubiquitous light. It reflected off the trees above him, bouncing back off the bottoms of the leaves and throwing each vein and twig into sharp relief. He could feel the night breeze on his face, cool and pleasant but without that nippy quality it had held earlier. It was more like a relaxing breeze after a hot day of work.

Then he started seeing the shapes. He squinted again, trying to grasp what he was seeing, but his eyes seemed to refuse. Or perhaps the shapes refused to be defined. The only thing he could say for sure was that they looked like people.

Mostly.

When he first saw them, they were about the size of children, with spindly arms and legs and mostly featureless faces with the exception of large, almond-shaped black eyes. Their heads were round and he couldn't see hair anywhere on them. Their limbs seemed too small to support their weight and, indeed, it was almost as if they floated there.

Then, in what seemed the blink of an eye, they transformed. They grew in stature, their faces becoming human, but more beautiful than any human in existence. Their expressions were kindly and stern at the same time. Pure white robes, hard to discern in the light, covered their bodies, and huge white wings grew from their backs while long, wavy, blond-almost-white hair flowed down over their shoulders. Their eyes were purest blue.

And then they were luminous beings, seemingly the source of the light that surrounded him. Roughly the same size, they had no features at all, not even as much as the first forms had had. No eyes, no mouths, just light in the shape of a human body. The light was intense, and yet he could look straight at it.

They shifted again, once more becoming the child-like beings.

Then angels.

Then light.

It was a never-ending loop. Harvey wasn't sure if this was their nature, or if his eyes simply refused to see them in one form. They began to move, forming a semi-circle around him that directed his gaze straight to his front. He wasn't sure, but there seemed to be some kind of shape behind that light, something he couldn't quite see.

The beings began singing.

It was like nothing Harvey had ever heard. If there could be pure music, the highest form of music possible, this would be it. He couldn't begin to count how many instruments there might be or name any of them. Even the lilting music he'd heard from the house was no equal to this. It tugged at his heart and he felt tears of joy flowing freely down his cheeks.

He realized they were singing his name.

Not just Harvey Wilson, though that was there as well, but some heart name, some soul name he'd never really acknowledged in his life and yet had always known he'd had on some level or another. In a perfect blending of voices, tones reaching down low and ascending to unseen heights, they called his name and his soul, or something like it, responded.

Then, emerging from the harmonious singing, another voice. A familiar voice. A voice dear to his heart.

He looked straight across from where he stood, toward the structure that was mostly hidden by the light, and saw movement there. At first, he wasn't sure what it was he saw, but then the shape began to take form and substance. Emerging out of the light. Smiling.

Martha.

She was no longer old, no longer ravaged by time and sickness, as she had been the last time he saw her. She was as beautiful and young as she had been the day he first laid eyes on her, as becoming as the day he'd took her for wife. She smiled as she came toward him, her eyes lit up with love and affection, and Harvey fell to his knees.

Still singing, she shook her head and reached out for him. When he took her hand, she pulled him to his feet, that loving smile on her face as she sang his name with the beings around them.

On impulse, he looked down at himself, and was astonished to see that the old Harvey was gone. Or, perhaps, the old Harvey had returned, in a manner of speaking. Like Martha, he was young again, and he could feel the vitality that he hadn't realized he missed flowing through his veins. He felt strong, his muscles firm and without all the aches and pains he'd learned to live with over the years. He could even feel that the teeth in his mouth were his own again and not a set of dentures.

He laughed.

The music swelled, the beings singing what Harvey could only think of as hosannas. Glad tidings.

Glad tidings indeed.

Without a word, Martha began leading him. They walked across the gravel bar toward whatever was hidden behind the light, and he felt lighter on his feet than he could ever remember feeling. She glanced back at him once, and he smiled at her, then followed her into the light.

Behind him, the music slowly faded, the light going with it. As it did, the night's darkness returned, a glimmer of star shine on the swirling water of the creek, and the humble sound of the crickets, undisturbed by the tableau that had just happened.

Then the lights and music were gone, and the night reclaimed its own.

####

Meredith Wilson was bothered by the silence from the living room. Randy was off today, and he'd been sitting and watching the History Channel, one of his favorite pastimes, when the phone rang. She'd heard it absently, but as she was making cookies, she knew Randy would answer. As she stirred around in the kitchen, she'd heard him talking quietly, but after a few minutes it had stopped. And the TV hadn't come back up again.

Drying her hands on a towel, she walked to the kitchen door and peered into the living room. Randy was sitting in his chair, his hand still on the phone, just staring.

"Randy, honey, what's wrong?"

He stirred and looked up at her. She could see the beginnings of tears there and caught her breath. Somehow she knew. Then he returned his gaze to some undefined area in front of him.

"It's Dad," he said, his voice low. "Mary just called. Pete found him down by the creek, laying on the gravel bar."

Feeling tears of her own starting, Meredith went to her husband, taking his free hand in her own.

"He was fully dressed," Randy said. "And they found his flashlight on the back step. He must have gone out in the dark. Pete told her Dad had had some trouble with kids partying down at the creek. But he'd said he wouldn't go down there by himself."

He paused, then turned and looked at her again, his eyes brimming.

"But there was something odd about it, Meredith," he said. "I don't understand it, but Mary said Pete told her Dad was smiling."

####

The baby came early. May first. A girl. They named her Martha.

THE END


© 2010 Gil Miller

Bio: Gil Miller is a 44 year old veteran of the US Army and an avid reader and writer. He was made aware of the worlds of fantasy and science fiction when, in sixth grade, his science teacher read The Hobbit to the class over the course of the school year. Gil acquired his own copy, along with the The Lord of the Rings trilogy and has never looked back. He lives in Northwest Arkansas and is attending online college in pursuit of a Bachelors degree in Information Technology with a concentration in Network Administration. Gil says he has had an interest in writing for years and has written a few things, but only only gotten serious about it in the last three years or so. Gil says "I am proud to say that my daughter, who is 21, also wishes to be a writer."

E-mail: Gil Miller

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