Standish Cole, watching the morning sky as pale light blotted the horizon, hoped for signs of warmth and a day dry enough to take his tractor into the fields. If he couldn’t get into the fields today, the crops would be lost. Along with them, his hopes of making the payments on the land and the tractor would be crushed. Never before had he felt so utterly at the mercy of the weather. Even after the floods two years earlier, when the water took his crops and his wife, he was confident he would prevail and rebuild his farm and his life. This was different. His little remaining confidence felt fragile, like a paper-thin layer of ice on a frozen pond; a beetle could walk across it, but if a mouse were to make the mistake of testing its strength, the creature would drown.
Until recently, Standish refused to allow his mind to wander down paths leading to “what if” the farm failed. But the last two months had proven the power of positive thinking was myth. Too many things had gone wrong to allow himself the luxury of believing in his own capacity for overcoming adversity or his deeply religious neighbors’ admonitions.
“Everything will work out, Standish, the Lord is testing us and He will show us the way.” That was Chloe Webster, whose house burned to the ground when the candles she used for light caught the place on fire after the power was cut to her house for nonpayment.
Steven Pepperman, too, insisted the Lord worked in mysterious ways: “Standish, one day you’ll understand the Lord’s power. He will show you the way out of your darkest hours if you will only believe in Him. I believe we are being tested so that He will show Himself to you as the Almighty God.” Pepperman, too, had perished. He died in the horrific collapse of the Evangelical Redeemer of Faith Bible Church building.
As Standish stood on his porch, waiting for light, he saw a distant cloud bank illuminated by flashes of lightning, then heard the far-away rumble of thunder. He did not move a muscle; his eyes remained fixed on the section of sky where he saw the lightning. Another flash punctuated the morning, this one brighter, followed by a peal of thunder louder and deeper than the first. A third burst of light followed, yet closer, filling the dim morning sky, followed almost instantly by a crack of thunder so loud it shook the foundation of his house. Even before the sound of thunder dissipated, the jarring noise of rain hitting the tin roof sent convulsive shivers through his body.
Standish, the man who had weathered floods and the loss of his wife and who had withstood disdain for his lack of Christian belief, felt a sense of hopelessness envelop him like a choking cloud of noxious gas. He turned toward the door and then stopped and turned around again to look at the gloom.
Maybe this will blow over; just a passing shower.
But he knew this was no passing shower. This was the end. This was the ugly conclusion of a punishment he did not deserve, delivered by something he could not understand, for reasons that he did not care to know. Standish turned around again and stepped inside. He opened a drawer in the table just inside the entry, fishing around under papers and rags until he found it. The pistol he bought twenty years earlier but had never fired, not even once, was there. He opened the cylinder; the six bullets he had loaded when he bought the gun remained in place. He drew the gun from the drawer, let out an involuntary sigh, and made his decision.