For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. -Psalm 88
The call comes at high noon, with the sun bright on the rocks and sage, not in the dark midnight hours like Ferrell Swan always expected. On her cell from his old Ohio home, his ex-wife Rilla asks if he's sitting down.
"You bet," Ferrell says, standing at the porch rail. He looks across the high desert country, knowing the news is about Levon, Rilla's child from her first marriage. Ferrell helped raise the boy preschool to high school, the most strife and turmoil ever seen. Though Levon's now thirty-one, not a whole lot has changed.
"What this time?" he says when she doesn't volunteer the words.
"He crashed his car."
The quiet on the line puts Ferrell's knees to trembling. He hopes for anything but Levon being dead, anything else but that. He tries to steer his thoughts from the tragic, but that never helps when it comes to a child, whatever the age.
"Real bad." Rilla goes silent again, leaving Ferrell to feel every mile between his beloved Idaho and the charming brick house from his past, where Rilla now huddles alone.
"I'll get a flight," Ferrell says, already planning the eighty-mile drive to the airport in Boise. "I'll try to be there tomorrow."
"Try very hard," Rilla says and hangs up.
Ferrell pockets his own cell phone in disgust, high-tech messenger of bad news. He studies the colossal smoke columns above Oregon, a half million acres, the radio reports, burning out of control. It has been the worst fire season in a century, months of no rain and hundred-degree days, the air itself ready to burst into flames. Over the summer, Ferrell has seen wildfire in every direction from his isolated cabin, nights lit in garish orange and red, the horizon aglow like the fires of hell have broken through. In daylight hours, the smoke pouring from behind the Owyhees seems a sign of distant war, the bombing of far-off cities.
Last night, Ferrell recalls, the full moon had risen so deeply crimson it scared him, a horrible sunset, he imagined, run backward in the smoky haze. Watching the smoldering moon, Ferrell heard his long dead mother quoting Scripture, something about the moon running the color of blood, a signal terrible events were about to begin.
(Learn more about Mitch Wieland's work at his web site.)