By John Thomas Tuft
The first call came in at 2200 hours, a fully involved structure fire in a retirement home, next door to the Cathedral of St. Peter on Main. Station223 responded with an ‘all hands’ alert, all trucks rolling, all standby companies ordered to full readiness. The firefighters sped through the cold darkness of Christmas Eve, Captain Rick working the radio as they swerved around traffic and did a few hard leans around the city corners at full speed. Reports came in of residents trapped on the top floors, and some uncertainty of whether the elevators were operational, so Rick yelled to the crew in the back, “Full gear, check your tanks, the halls are full of smoke. Team One, get to the top any way you can. Check for survivors. Team Two, take the stairs and haul hose.” He looked at Jimmy, the ‘probie’ of the company, and ordered, “You, stay on my six. You hear me?” A wide-eyed Jimmy gulped and nodded, the screaming siren and strobes flashing across his face making the scene more surreal.
Captain Rick tapped on Jimmy’s knee. “Remember, watch for the devil’s tears. Drops of fire from the ceiling.” The radio crackled. “Two souls down,” came the sobering report, followed by harsh static. Rick strained to hear, but nothing. It went dead. When the trucks rolled up on the building, it appeared to be fully engulfed, flames coming through the roof nine stories up, glass in the windows popping from the heat, raining shards on the sidewalk below. Police moved onlookers back while Captain Rick directed the controlled chaos of a major fire. Station1159 arrived on scene, then Station632. The battalion commander arrived on the scene and Captain Rick was distracted. Jimmy watched the others streaming into the dangerous fire and started to wonder if he was going to miss all the action. The captain had ordered him to stay on his six, right behind him, but he needed to get in there. Lives were at stake.
Jimmy tightened his face mask, turned up the airflow and followed the next squad into the building, carrying a Halligan bar and a snagger tool. His breathing came in quick gasps that fogged the shield and made him a bit light-headed. By the time Captain Rick turned around, Jimmy had disappeared into the inferno. In the black smoke and confusion, Jimmy soon lost his way. He groped his way to a staircase and started up, feeling along the hose with his boot. He lost track of how high he climbed and went through the next doorway he found to try and get his bearings. The glow of the Christmas lights in the corridor cast an eerie pallor through the smoke. He heard someone scream from behind one of the closed doors. He tried the knob, but he had to use the snagger to break through. He picked up the frail figure from the floor and started back. In the hallway, something made him look up. The devil’s tears danced closer along the drop ceiling.
There was a roaring sound behind him as debris started to collapse around him. He looked around for escape, when it happened. A figure appeared, a middle-aged black woman in a pink dress, motioning for him to follow her. “I’m Gigi,” she said. “Come this way.” She pointed ahead to a wall enveloped in flames. Jimmy hesitated. The woman in his arms whimpered in pain and coughed on the smoke. Still Jimmy hesitated. Gigi opened her arms wide in invitation and stepped backwards into the flames. “Trust me,” she said, “follow me.” Jimmy gathered all the courage he could muster and stepped closer. Gigi went into the flames and Jimmy followed as the hallway collapsed behind him. Then everything went completely dark. Jimmy kept walking, calling “Gigi, Gigi, are you there?”
Following the sound of her voice, after a time a light appeared. He stepped into the light and discovered that he was in the Cathedral of St. Peter. He gently laid down his burden, took off his mask and let her breathe in the fresh air. He looked around. It was the vast sanctuary, with frightened perishables in the pews trying to celebrate the arrival. “Where’s Gigi?” asked Jimmy. “She brought me through. Where did she go?” The old priest climbed down from the pulpit and came around the communion table. His voice was kind. “Whom do you seek?” Jimmy grew more confused. “Gigi. She led me out of the fire. I wanted to thank her.”
The old priest smiled. “She’s not here, my son. You must have met a dangerous angel.” Jimmy insisted, “No, she was there. I don’t know about any dangerous angel. I was terrified and she helped me.” The priest reached out and took Jimmy’s hand. “My son, angels never ask you to do something easy. It is always dangerous. For them. And for you.” As the bells tolled midnight, Jimmy stumbled out of the cathedral. The Salvation Army canteen truck sat at the curb, ministering to the firefighters and fire victims. As Captain Rick stormed over, Jimmy thought he caught a glimpse of pink disappearing around the corner far down the block, but he could never be sure…
Words are magic and writers are wizards.