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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
278 pages
Mar 2005
Tate Publishing

Fires of Darkness

by Tom Buford

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The front porch of the old farmhouse brought memories of the past and dreams of the future. As Amy stood there, straddling the cracks between the old planks of oak and holding her hand across the top of her belly, she could feel the kicks coming from the tiny person who had been growing inside her for the past eight months.

From her spot on the porch, Amy could see signs of age in the old barn that sat no more than three or four hundred yards away. The barn was turning to shades of gray, as if it knew that it was growing old. This place had been in her family for much longer than she could remember. So had much of the equipment that sat around, slowly turning into rusty monuments to times past. There was an old drab green Oliver tractor with its seat full of holes and a crank with which to start it. Near it sat a machine from which perfectly formed bales of hay had once fallen. Only tiny specks of red remained to hint of its original color. The ancient block and tackle still hung from the beam that protruded from the hayloft. This old homeplace was her father's before her, and his father's before him.

The farm was no longer a means of support for the family, as it once had been. Only the strong could survive in the business of farming. Farms with land measured in sections rather than acres covered the countryside as far as the eye could see. The old equipment left here by generations gone before was no match against such enormous competition and against the giant equipment that could plow a dozen rows or more in one pass. The only farming done on this land now was the little garden spot in the back yard. There were a few chickens, a lone cow, and a couple of hogs waiting patiently for their time to become bacon.

Amy leaned out over the railing of the front porch, looking toward the back yard, and saw a ferocious storm building in the west. Dark clouds billowed upward, churning, agitated. She squinted her eyes against the wind. It blew her long curly auburn hair and stung her lightly freckled skin.

We're in for a rough one...again. She'd seen them before. Wind blowing dust at you with such velocity that you'd swear it could go right through you. Rain so heavy that the barn couldn't be seen from the porch. So much hail on the ground that it looked like snow. The flat terrain provided nothing to slow the storm, nothing to shield one from the wind.

In the distance, the cloud of brown that built from the ground up warned of the dust storm that commonly preceded the rain this time of year.

Tornadoes were often spawned by storms like this one. Grandpa had built the old storm cellar in the back yard because of them. Amy considered it a work of art, its rough concrete steps descending into the coolness. A coffee can filled with cement hung on the end of a rope to counterbalance its heavy galvanized metal door. Grandma had always kept it stocked with home-canned fruits and vegetables in case of an emergency. Besides that, the canned food seemed to last longer down there in the cool damp atmosphere.

Amy felt pangs of fear every time severe storms began to develop. It was a storm much like this one that had killed Amy's mother. Amy was only three years old at the time, but she could remember the imposing black car that carried her mother to the cemetery. She remembered hanging on the tail of her apron while she stood at the kitchen counter washing dishes or making sugar cookies. She had no siblings. Any other memories she had of her mother were instilled in her by her father. The pony rides. The ducks at the pond in the Cory, Nebraska city park. Feeding the birds by the fence behind where the garden was now. Amy didn't remember them, but she had done them. She and her mother.

There was something ominous about this new storm—almost like the horrid piercing eyes of some dark unseen presence were looking at her, staring at her. Pressure tightened.

Amy retreated to the living room and nervously picked up the telephone. I'll call Douglas! He'll know what to do. "Please be there!" she anxiously whispered.

Douglas was just two years older than Amy, but as far as she was concerned, he was the wisest man she knew. At just five feet, eight inches and with a slight frame, he wasn't exactly Mr. America. But to her, he was still the best looking husband on the planet. She liked his blue eyes, his freckles, and his naturally curly hair. She leaned on him for her protection, especially since her father, grandfather, and only uncle—all the other men who had been close to her—were no longer alive. The telephone crashed to the floor as she dialed.

Slow down, Amy. Slow down! She dialed with one hand as she picked up the phone with the other. "Come on, Douglas. Pick it up...pick it up, Douglas!" she whispered. Where is he? Douglas, you picked a fine time to go show some property! "Pick the phone up!"

Douglas Canton Realtor was just that—a realtor—one realtor. Marsha Crabtree, a forty-something red headed, jolly woman with a very obvious northeastern accent helped Douglas on a part-time basis as a secretary/janitor/gopher. She was off today, of all days.

"God! Where is Douglas? Where is he?" she screamed out in a way not meant as a prayer. She hadn't been to church in several months, and wasn't sure God would pay attention to her even if she did call on Him. This is no time for a pregnant twenty-two year old girl marooned on a farm by herself to go into labor. "Settle down, Amy. It's only a storm." She wiped away the two or three tears that trailed down her cheeks. It’s not your first, and it certainly won’t be your last.

It was twelve miles into Cory, twelve miles of nothing but fields of corn and grain. Some had wondered how God managed to cram so much of nothing into such a small space. Normally, it would have been no problem to get out of the house and into town. But this time, Douglas's car was out of commission. Rather than try to catch a ride with one of the neighbors, distant as they were, he took Amy's old Buick. It wasn't in the greatest shape, but it always started, no matter how hot or cold the weather.

Douglas's car, a four wheel drive Chevrolet Suburban, sat in the driveway just a few feet from the back porch. He said it wouldn't start this morning when he left for work. It had plenty of gas. The battery wasn't dead. It just wouldn't start. It should have. It was only a couple of years old. Nearly new cars are supposed to be dependable.

Maybe it will start now. Amy ran out the back door and off the end of the porch before she realized that she had no key to fit his car. She never drove it. They had purchased the Suburban because he needed it in his business, to drive across the farm and ranch land he sold.

She ran back into the kitchen and grabbed for the keys hanging by the back door. "Where is it? There has to be an extra key here somewhere! Douglas, what did you do with it?"

"Maybe it's in his jewelry box upstairs." She stopped, took a deep breath, then climbed the stairs to the bedroom. She went straight to the little flat artificial wood box where Douglas kept his cuff links, tie tacks, and the only ring he owned other than his wedding band. No key!

What do I do now...besides relax? This baby is not going to be born out in the middle of nowhere! Her thoughts went on. What if there was a problem? He would be a month premature. What if his umbilical cord was wrapped...

Amy eased back down the steps and out onto the back porch to check on the storm. The wind blew harder. The dust storm was just a short distance across the neighbor's field.

Amy's slight frame—she had barely weighed one hundred pounds before the pregnancy—was no match for wind gusts that approached forty miles per hour. Douglas had been late for an appointment this morning. In his haste, maybe he had left his keys in the car. Cupping her hands around her eyes, Amy looked for the keys in the car. Darkness displaced daylight as clouds hid the sun. "Yes!" She snatched at the door handle. But...!

"Why did he lock the doors? He never locks the car doors at home! Douglas!"

The wind howled. Is that the phone ringing? She ran as quickly as she could back into the house, through the kitchen, past the dining room, down the hall, and left into the living room. She caught it halfway through a ring and screamed out, "Douglas? Douglas! Where are you? I'm sca—"

"Amy!" He tried to calm her. "Amy!"

"Come home, Douglas! I-I tried—"

"Amyyyyy! Please! Calm down. What's wrong?"

"I don't know what's wrong. Something really strange is happening. There's a big storm coming."

"I know. I can see it out west of town. Is it raining there yet?"

"No, not yet. But the wind is really blowing. I don't know what it is, but there is something else going on."

"Take a deep breath, Amy. What are you talking about?"

"I don't exactly know. Can you come home? I'm scared."

"Okay, just hold on. I'll be—"

"Hurry, Douglas. It's getting real dark. And I can feel something. The pressure from it is squeezing me. It's almost like somebody...uh...something, is in the house with me, hiding somewhere."

"Have you seen or heard anyone else?"

"No. I just—"

"Is that you wheezing and grunting?" His question was interrupted by a crashing sound.

"Amy! AAAmy! Amy, are you..."

Douglas stared at the receiver in his hand. No sound. No reply. No sound at all. Not even the sound of the wind. Nothing! "Amy!!!!!"