Through the Fire


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.

1

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?”

“Tuesday.”

Antonio’s heart sank, and all remains of his hangover quickly disappeared. Veronica. “Charlie, I’ve gotta go. I’ll call you later.”

“Tony, wait-”

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.

“Tony?”

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

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook by clicking on the appropriate link to the right. Thanks!

Have a blessed day,

Chris



Categories: Fiction

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33 replies

  1. I love your pages and your form of self-expression, it is a pleasure to have you share your gifts through your pages Thank you. I have nominated you for blog of the Year please visit my page Blog of the year awards and nominations Thank you! Revised
    Posted on December 9, 2012

  2. You have me captivated. I would definitely read the book and watch the movie based on your book. This would be a new angle on a tragedy that no one wants to forget. If I could play critic from a reader’s point of view, I would lose the line, “Not exactly a recipe for man of the year.” I may be really weird, but I just can’t buy that a man would think in terms of ‘recipe for.’ But hey, I’ve been wrong before. I wouldn’t let that keep me from reading more!

  3. I agree with what’s been said – good writing; good story.
    My critique is the same as tanaramccauley’s … If this is Chapter 1, get to the meat of it sooner. Back-story can come later. You have a lot of good “show” in there, which means you can do away with the “tell”. Trust your reader to be able to work things out for themselves.
    I also liked the dialogue. My only question is, would the firemen have told people/Veronica to go back to their office / that they couldn’t leave their floor? I would have thought they wanted to get people out of the building as soon as possible? Of course I don’t know what happens next so it’s possible this is a question intentionally planted to drive Tony forward. If so… nice one :)
    I would definitely keep reading.

  4. because you asked:
    Rachels words sent chills down my body, the questions left to the emptiness the recording gave her no comfort only leaving her to think aloud, afraid and confused.
    very yummy btw
    I’m no writer, just a humble reader, who tends to enjoy wallowing in the descriptive melody words create as they form a seductive dance within my mind, forever caught in its embrace.
    Thank you for the frolic

  5. If I read the synopsis on the back of a book I’d probably buy it. You’re off to a great start and I really like your writing style. I read through some of the other comments and agree with some of the editing suggestions, mainly eliminating so much backstory in the beginning (let it unfold) and also resisting the urge to explain things that we can pick up on (e.g. “evidence of his nightly routine” when the beer cans and pill bottles give this away, and “someone was calling” right after we hear the phone ring). I would rather see this as a novel versus a short story/novella because, based on the synopsis, you’ve got the bones for a great book. To accomplish that reveal Antonio’s problems and past progressively throughout the story and not all at once in the first few pages. Great work!

  6. You have me hooked as well! Keep writing so I can read! ~Mary

  7. thank you for the follow!
    this story is off to a great start. interesting perspective
    for a tragic but very significant event in history.
    the end of this snippet is a nail bitter — what happens!!
    yes I’d like to read the rest, pls keep writing (:

  8. I will be waiting for the next installment!

  9. It was after the first 4 para’s that i started liking it hope u keep bringing events and hopes timely !
    and well the idea is already heard of but the treatment is new ! i have seen some bruce wills movie like this … !

  10. Yes I would love to read the whole story. Love your style.

  11. Interesting piece Chris. But I also agree that the description of the room and hangover was too crowded with words.. This piece can be turned into a short story with some lovely intimate memories of their relationship, showing the glimpse how they eventually parted and finally the same END.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Good Day!
    Payal

  12. Brilliant structured writing my friend…You blew me away at the beginning of this sentence. :)

    Say, if you have free time on your hands check out my new blog.

    God hates condoms

    http://charliezero1.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/god-hates-condoms/

  13. Fantastic!!! You had me at the first paragraph, I’d love to read more!! :)

  14. Yeah, I agree with jade sandwich. The beginning had me hooked AFTER I fought through all the details. I’d much rather learn as I went. I think all you needed to tell us about his chronic drinking was 1) how he felt when he woke up, and how his face looked in the mirror; 2) the beer cans everywhere; 3) the pizza he didn’t remember ordering; 4) how easily he downed a beer for breakfast.

    The voicemail really grabbed me, and it was good that you told us about it, then went on to something else…then came back to it. Like: “Oh, that’s right, he had a voicemail message.”

    I’d like to read more.

  15. I think it has a lot of potential! I definitely want to keep reading~ Just a few comments though! The beginning felt slow. I like a lot of the descriptions about how he feels with his hangover, but I think there’s a bit too much of it (it felt kind of repetitive). Also, the first 2 sentences sort of turned me off. It feels kind of strange just knowing his full name right off the bat instead of finding it out through the story – same with the blatant telling that it’s NY. Plus, we find out that it’s NY later with the description of the twin towers so it seems a bit redundant and unnecessary for the reader to put such straightforward descriptions at the beginning. Love his self-reflection in the bathroom and the sirens in the background. It really shows me what’s going on instead of just blatantly telling me. I think the conversation with the boss seems a bit unrealistic though. I think it would be difficult to talk to any chief for that long even if the city wasn’t collapsing! Parts of Veronica’s message also didn’t seem too real. I find it hard to believe that she would talk for that long in that situation or ask if there was a bomb to an answering machine. Well, that’s my advice. Whether or not you take it, it looks great and I hope to read more!

  16. I love it and can’t wait to read more! Keep going! :)

  17. “Through The Fire” — Of course, finish this work! You have us ‘hooked’ and there is so much more we need to know… Having a sense of you, the book will be both exciting and spiritually uplifting. Can’t wait!

  18. I definitely want to read more, great cliff hanger, the story really drew me in.

  19. I want to read the rest………..when can we read it?

  20. Excellent, Id like to read more….

  21. Very compelling. Reads well. Keep going!

  22. Please KEEP writing about this story! And let us know what happens next!

  23. Whoa! Such a cliffhanger… Looking forward to the next part?

  24. I started to read this expecting to skim it.
    I read every word.
    Each sentence compelled me to read the next. It definitely grabbed me even though I don’t like Tony, and Veronica is doomed. Poor Hope.
    Brings back a lot of anguish wondering what it must have been like.

  25. I’m hooked! I want to read more. And I am not a fiction reader…normally! :)

  26. I have goose bumps!

  27. Wow !! yes, yes, yes..I would definitely read it…what a cliff hanger…the title reminds me of a poem my husband wrote a few years back titled ” The Lord’s Refining Fire”. This sounds like a story that Must be finished and read.. God Bless your endeavors in finishing the book..

  28. Please…the suspense is killing me…

  29. This is awesome, it really made me interested when I read the setting! I’d really look forward for more.

  30. I like it and would like to know how things work out..keep writing, it’s good :)

  31. I got chills down my body reading this! and yes! I want to know if his wife made it out?
    Paula x

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