The air had a honey-glow to it as the dry dirt permeated his nose. In the distance, the Sun was setting as half-pregnant clouds drifted teasingly by him.
“We need rain, ” he said, dejectedly chewing the tip of a blade of wheat, “We need rain or we are not going to make it.”
His only audience was his old tractor. It was silent, parked in the corner of the field and he was leaning against it surveying what he would lose this season. Despite the weather forecast, he had planted. He had had to. This was his last chance. His fields should be rolling with golden acres of wheat by now. They were not, and he could feel the creditors and the bankers growling and scratching at his door like hungry wolves.
He sighed, clambered back up into the tractor and turned the ignition. The desperate silence of the moment passed as its diesel engine spluttered to life and he rolled away on his way back to the farmhouse. Much like his fields, it was empty. His wife had taken the children and moved to the town a season ago and his old dog had died shortly thereafter.
“I need rain,” he muttered, feeling powerless as the clouds floated by him, “Or I might not make it.”
The next morning he awoke to a thousand-small-sounds of water hitting the farmhouse’s metal roof. It sounded like heaven. He shook his head. He had had strange dreams that night. A very strange dream. A dark, familiar man had woken him from his sleep and offered him a good harvest, but it would cost others blood. Or something. The dream was a bit foggy.
He felt exhausted like he had not slept a wink, but the rain overhead brought a smile to his face. He had taken a risk planting this season and it was looking like it was going to pay-off.
He walked out of the farmhouse and felt the cool, splashes of hope hitting him. It was starting to rain harder and his lifted his face up to the heavens. He laughed and raised his arms. His fields were being soaked. His dams were being filled. He was going to make it.
In the distance, a lone ambulance’s wail reached him as it screeched down the national road that intersected his fields. He barely paid attention to it while he let the joy soak through him.
After the funeral, the townsfolk all said their condolences as they walked passed him. The priest was the last to go and then he was alone looking down the graves of his wife and two children. At least the medics had said that they had died instantly in the car. No pain. No suffering.
Those were all his and his alone now.
Time felt like it was stretching out as he drove his old, beaten-up Ford down the national road that intersected his fields. Their golden acres spread out before promising a good harvest. In fact, because the rain had only fallen over his fields, the price of wheat was rising by the second and his fields promised both volumes of harvest and a high price to go with them.
Far from bankrupt, he was soon going to be a very rich man.
As he turned down the dirt road that led off the national road and towards his empty farmhouse, he felt the guilt again. He fought back a tear and swallowed hard as his throat tightened. He reached for the half-empty hipflask of bourbon in the passenger seat and took a large swig of it. The fire helped, but the numbness that followed helped more. It kept the demons inside from taking over, for now.
Why should he get all the rain? Why was his family in that car at that exact time? Why could he not forget that dream of the dark, familiar man offering him the harvest that now packed his fields all around him?
Why did he feel like he had made a pact with the devil?
Later that night and a bottle of bourbon more, he was screaming at the night sky in his field. His shotgun in hand and tears rolling down his cheeks. The demons were fully in control now.
“Why! Why take them from me!” he screamed at the heaven, locked on a twinkling star and fired a blast from his shotgun before dropping to the ground. Tears were falling from him, watering the ground.
“It was the terms of the deal,” said a familiar voice right in front of him, “But I can offer you another one?”
He looked up and, through the foggy haze of bourbon, he recognized the dark, familiar man from his dreams. He was standing, smiling before him.
“A-a, another deal?” he said, confused, trying to stand up, “W-what, I–”
The dark man smiled and extended his hand to help him to his feet.
“Yes, I can reunite you with your family. In fact, I can do so tonight.”
“That’s him,” the young man said, “that’s definitely my uncle.”
“Are you sure,” the overweight cop said, narrowing his eyes, “The shotgun never left much of his face behind. For the record, can you state how you are certain it is your uncle?”
The young man nearly gagged and turned around. The cop replaced the sheet over the body in the morgue and stepped back.
Once the young man had recovered, he turned around and nodded: “Definitely him, sir. It’s the tattoo. It has all of our names worked into it. But, of course, there aren’t any of us left now.”
The cop nodded, satisfied and guided the young man out of the morgue.
“Yes, in fact,” the cop began with a strange inclination of his voice, “None of you left, except you. You do stand to inherit the farm, don’t you? Not just the farm, but its coming harvest that, by all accounts, is likely to be very, very profitable this year…”
The young man nodded, “Yes, you cannot suspect me, surely? I was miles away in another city! Besides, didn’t the forensic say it was a suicide?”
Once outside the morgue, the cop stopped and positioned his large frame in front of the young man, “Yes, but another set of footprints were found in the field. We may have your alibi and it may check out and the forensic may still have concluded the shotgun was pulled by your uncle himself, but I would not leave town if I were you. We will find out who that other set of footprints belongs to…”
“Don’t worry, I’ve sold the harvest forward in the futures market and the money will be in your bank account by tomorrow,” the young man growled into his mobile phone, “Use what you need to settle the money I owe you and take the rest to never contact me again. I never want to hear your voice again, or I’ll call the cops.”
He never waited for a reply, hung up the phone and threw it on the passenger seat. A half-drunk bottle of bourbon lay there, which he reached for and took a swig from.
He was driving down the national road surveying his new farm and its rolling fields of golden wheat. The Sun was setting in the background. It’s golden licks curling into blood-red fire that seeped across the horizon and these endlessly rolling fields in which his uncle had killed himself a week after his family had died in a car accident.
“Other footprints?” he mused aloud as the car slowed and turned down the dirt road to the farmhouse, “Who the hell else was there when–”
He slammed on the breaks!
Standing in the middle of the dirt road in front of the car was a dark, familiar stranger. The same one that he had spoken with a few nights ago when he thought his gambling debts were going to be the death of him.
The dark, familiar stranger was grinning and, for some reason, that terrified the young man.