Tom Pritchard had ten minutes to live. At half past six, the Missouri farmer had enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with his wife of thirty-three years – fried bacon with her special egg casserole and toast. He’d skipped the shower; choosing instead to pull on last night’s overalls and flannel shirt, clean socks and boots from the mud porch. Gotta milk Sassy and fix the gate on that fence first. I’ll take a long bath after I finish up in the field.
Thirty-six degrees of wind chill slapped the farmer’s unshaved cheeks, causing his eyes to water a bit. Pritchard pulled the stained, quilted coat collar up tightly around his earlobes. His right glove had a large tear in the little finger, so he kept that tucked warmly into his jacket pocket, while using his left to shield his eyes against the bright morning sun.
“Morning, Dad!” a lean teenager called from the south side of a brightly painted barn. “I already milked Sass for ya’. I figured I’d have breakfast myself, and then I’d head on out to the fields and check the corn. Abe Nelson is coming out this afternoon. I think it’s just about dry enough to start harvest.”
By now, father had caught up to son, and Tom clapped his only child’s broad shoulder with his left hand. A ghostly chill ran along Pritchard’s fifty-one year-old spine, and he nearly stumbled.
“You okay, Dad?” the nineteen-year-old asked. “You look sort of flushed. Maybe you got that flu, huh?”
Pritchard glanced up at the clear blue skies and shook his head. “Helluva day,” he whispered to the glaring sun above them.
Ken Pritchard, named for his mother’s grandfather, looked long into his father’s aging gray eyes. Thomas and April Pritchard had married on a rainy day in May, ten months before their first child was born and mercifully died. Born with neither arms nor legs and with an underdeveloped brain, the boy would have spent his entire life in institutions. Thomas had blamed April, for the young mother had smoked the entire pregnancy. April had blamed her beer-guzzling husband. Both had blamed God.