I haven’t posted any fiction in a while, so today I want to give you a glimpse of a new story on which I’m currently working. I would like to know if this would make you want to read the rest, or if it’s boring, or whatever you think. The title is Through the Fire. Here is a brief (incomplete) synopsis.
From the darkness of the September 11th tragedy, comes a remarkable story of one man’s journey to find happiness and redemption. Antonio Rolleri is separated from his wife, recently suspended from the New York City fire department for substance abuse, and struggling to rise above his depression. As the events unfold that September morning, Antonio’s life is forever changed. With the help of his best friend, Charlie, Antonio fights to overcome his addiction and discover a new life. A life he could never have imagined. Through the Fire is a story of pain, failure, redemption, and ultimately hope.
The wail of sirens pulled Antonio Rolleri from an alcohol induced slumber. He could normally tune out the familiar sounds of New York City. He rolled onto his back and slowly opened one eye, and then the other. As it did almost every morning, his head began to pound with a steady rhythm of pain. A barb of sunlight peered though the blinds, and he squinted as if someone had shoved a million watt spotlight directly into his face. He groaned in discomfort as he sat up and slid his legs over the bed. Empty beer cans littered the floor, leaving a trail from his bedroom into the hallway. Evidence of his nightly routine.
His stomach churned with distress, and he waited until it had calmed down before he entertained the idea of standing up. The pain in his midsection caused him to hunch over, and he thought, for a minute, he would vomit onto the hardwood floor. The wave of nausea passed, and he carefully stood to his feet. Dizzy, he held on to the headboard until he could see only one door leading to the bathroom instead of three.
Antonio walked to the sink and turned on the faucet. He filled his cupped hands with cold water and splashed his face. As he rubbed the sleepiness from both eyes, the freezing liquid stung like an electrical shock. He gazed into the mirror and shook his head. The man who looked back was nothing more than a shadow of the person he used to be. Blood shot eyes, full of accusation, stared at him. He wanted to blame Veronica, but he knew deep inside that everything had been his own fault. He hadn’t been around as a husband should be, and the gap in their relationship grew until it became too wide to bridge.
Irreconcilable differences. That was the phrase she used as she walked out the door. It wasn’t officially a divorce, but they were most certainly splitting up. Antonio knew she wouldn’t come back. Who could blame her? He had turned into nothing more than an out of work, deadbeat drunk. Not exactly a perfect recipe for man of the year. As tears began to roll down his cheeks, Antonio cursed the stranger inside the mirror. How could life change from everything being almost perfect, to becoming alone with nothing but sleeping pills and booze to keep him company?
He looked at the prescription bottle on the counter. With no more refills, he had been using the tablets sparingly. Earlier in the week, Antonio called and begged his doctor for more, but he refused.
He turned off the water and dried his face with a towel. He left the bathroom and went into the kitchen, stepping over the empty cans in the hallway. He considered cooking scrambled eggs, but the thought of food almost caused his stomach to churn once again. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. He popped the top and chugged half of it before he walked into the living room and dropped onto the couch. A pizza box sat open on the coffee table with one slice inside. Antonio frowned. He didn’t even remember ordering pizza the night before. He shrugged and leaned his head back.
The throbbing in his temples began to subside as he finished the beer. He crumpled the can and tossed it toward a trash can sitting in the middle of the floor. It missed and bounced into a pile of cans already there. Antonio spotted his cell phone at the end of the couch and picked it up. He pressed the Power button and waited for it to turn on. He didn’t expect there to be any messages waiting, but it never hurt to check.
He looked around for the TV remote control but didn’t see it. He started to stand up, but his phone beeped, and he sat back down. There was one voicemail. Before he could push the button to retrieve the message, his phone burst into music. Someone was calling. He winced as the sound stabbed into his head like a sharp knife. He quickly answered so the noise would stop. “Hello?”
“Tony! It’s me, Charlie. Are you okay?”
Charlie was a friend from college with whom Antonio had kept in touch with over the years. He lived in North Carolina, but the two friends would meet once or twice a year at a location between there and New York City. “Dude, you’ve got to stop yelling. I have a headache that just won’t quit. Why are you calling this early on a Saturday morning?”
“Are you serious? Please tell me you’re joking.”
“No, I’m dead serious. This headache is killing me. I woke up-”
“Not the headache, man. The day. You actually think it’s Saturday?”
Antonio looked around for a calendar, but the one that used to hang on the wall was gone. He remembered it well because it featured a different firehouse for each month. His, Company 115, had been the photograph for August. “Man, I don’t know. The only thing I can keep up with right now is how bad my life sucks.”
There was a moment of silence on the line before Charlie replied. “I’m sorry, Tony. I know things aren’t good for you right now. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. I’ve been watching the news. It looks bad.”
“The news? What looks bad?”
“You haven’t heard? It’s on every channel.”
Antonio suddenly realized the wail of sirens had not stopped since he crawled out of bed. “Hold on, I can’t find the remote.” He dug around under the cushions until he felt hard plastic of a channel changer. He pulled it out and switched the TV on. It was a moment that would be seared into his memory for the rest of his life.
People ran through the streets in sheer panic, smoke billowed up from both of the World Trade Center towers, and the reporters talked about a terrorist attack.
“Tony? You still there?”
“Oh my God,” Antonio whispered. “Charlie, what day is it?”
Antonio’s heart sank, and all remains of his hangover quickly disappeared. Veronica. “Charlie, I’ve gotta go. I’ll call you later.”
Antonio ended the call and then dialed his firehouse. “Company 115, how may I help you?”
“Rachel, this is Tony. I need to speak with the chief.”
“Tony, that’s not a bright idea. You’re on suspension, and it’s been total chaos this morning. I’ll tell him that you called.”
“No! Wait, Rachel. Please. It’s extremely important that I talk to him now. It’s about Veronica.”
“Is she okay?”
“I don’t know,” Antonio replied. “Please, let me speak to him.”
“I don’t even know if he’s still here. Hold on one second.”
Antonio walked over to a window and looked out. His small, third story apartment was on the opposite side that faced the Twin Towers. Fire trucks raced by on the street below. People stood motionless on the sidewalks as if time had stopped, and the world ceased to rotate on its axis. A sense of dread washed over Antonio.
“Tony, I don’t have much time. What’s going on?”
Chief Sal Tremonti had been a fireman for thirty years, the last ten as chief over Company 115. “Chief, it’s Veronica. On Tuesdays, she works in the South Tower, and I haven’t heard anything from her. Do we know if people are being evacuated yet?”
“I don’t know what’s going on down there. We’re scrambling to get everyone in so we can help. The best thing you can do is sit tight, and I’ll let you know something as soon as I can. I’m sure they are evacuating people from the building. That would be standard protocol in a situation like this.”
“Chief, there’s no way I can just sit here and do nothing. You need everyone you can get. I’m coming in.”
“No, you’re not fit for duty. Because you’re on suspension, I could lose my job just by allowing you to set foot on the premises. You need to stay at home and wait by the phone. That’s an order.”
Antonio slammed his hand against the wall in frustration. “Chief, this can’t be happening. I can’t stay here. I’ve got to try and help her. You don’t understand.”
“I understand perfectly, Tony. I know this is hard, but there’s nothing I can do right now. I promise I’ll call as soon as I can get some information.”
“Is there any way we can contact…” Antonio’s voice trailed off as he stared at the television.
Antonio dropped to his knees as the South Tower collapsed in a cloud of dust and debris. The camera switched to a street view as people began to flee in terror. After several stunned minutes, Antonio picked up his cell phone, but the chief had disconnected the call. He remembered the voicemail that he hadn’t checked. He pressed and held down the 1 button on the keypad.
“Tony? Oh, God. I don’t know what’s happened, but there was an explosion and now parts of the building are on fire. They told us to go back to our office, but I’m so scared. People are running around in complete panic. The elevators aren’t’ working, so I can’t get down to the nursery to check on Hope. I can’t imagine how scared she must be. I was going to try the stairs, but there were some firemen at the door, and they told me that I couldn’t leave this floor. They said everything was going to be fine and that we need to wait in the office. Tony, something horrible has happened, I can feel it. I heard someone mention a terrorist attack. Was there a bomb? The power is off, so we can’t watch anything on TV. Oh, I hope you’re okay. Please call me the second you hear this message. And, Tony? I am so sorry for everything that’s happened. I’ve been thinking, and I would really like to sit down and talk about things. Could we do that? No matter what happens, please know that I will always love y-”
The message abruptly ended, and the last thing Antonio remembered was darkness rising up to overtake him.
Next week: Everyone Has a Story. Meet Nhiet
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Have a blessed day,