The Devil's Heart

December

The town of Whitfield no longer exists. Very little of the northwestern part of Fork County exists, except in the memories of those who might once have lived there and were fortunate enough to be gone when the great fireball struck, searing the land for miles.

Scientists were stunned by the suddenness of the huge fireball, for it seemed to materialize out of the heavens, traveling at such a tremendous speed it was almost beyond calculation.

Where had it come from? the scientists were asked by a stunned population.

From straight out of the sun was the reply.

And you could not have predicted it?

No.

Why?

The scientists hedged that question, for many of them were sworn, avowed atheists. But finally, one man from an observatory in California who was not an unbeliever did reply, although not to the satisfaction of all his colleagues. His reply brought laughter from more than a few of his fellow scientists.

"How does one predict when the hand of God will fall? And how hard the blow will be?"

If indeed it had been, as the scientist said, "the hand of God," it had been a mighty slap from Him.

By the time various Spies in the Skies satellites picked up on the cannonading mass of fiery destruction, it was already on top of the satellites, through them, burning them before they could photograph more than a one-second shot at best, and transmit that to earth. Those pictures that did make it back to earth were immediately ordered seized by presidential order. They would be released for public viewing … sometime. At a date that would be set … sometime.

"Why?" came the immediate one-word question from the press.

The president did not tell them the real reason for his order. He did not tell them because he did not want them to think he was nuts. He did not tell them for a number of reasons, but chiefly because he could not think of a reasonable way to tell people that he had been visited by someone ... or something ... in a dream (or was it a dream?) who had forewarned him of the terrible, cataclysmic fireball of death. So he put the monkey on the backs of the military, telling the press it was in the best interest of the nation that the matter not be discussed for a time. It had to be studied and all that. Probably for a very long time.

And the president warned that should there be any leaks—any leaks at all—the leakee would spend the rest of his lengthy tour of duty attempting to hand-carry snowballs between Fort Myers and Miami, along the Tamiami Trail, without benefit of insect repellent.

There were no leaks.

The ball of fire that leveled Whitfield and parts of Fork County was, some scientists said, more than a mile wide and about three miles deep. Some said it was shaped like a Star of David. Others said it looked like an artist's conception of God's face; a striking resemblance. The president told the scientists to shut their damned mouths, too, or face the prospects of never receiving another dime of government money—for anything. But many people witnessed the strange blue lights that preceded the crash of the . . . whatever the hell it was, and they asked about those lights.

But suddenly, all was quiet about the mighty ball of fire, except for speculation, and that soon began to fade as other news pushed the holocaust out of the headlines. Only the insurance companies were left to ponder over the crash and dole out large sums of money to the relatives of those who had