Essays: The Initiation

Written September 1992

by Kenneth Lea Barbalace

Having made their way along a faintly familiar dark passage, they slowly file into a square chamber illuminated only by one small light carried in. Each of the four carefully sit on a wooden floor against two walls on either side of the entry. Waiting with nervous anticipation, they hardly notice the sound of their labored breathing through confining masks.

Finally their leader enters, inspects each seated novice, then crosses to the corner of the chamber opposite the entry way. He lights a torch and places it in a short barrel. The torch ignites the combustible contents, engulfing his gloved hand in flames. Calmly removing his hand from the fire, the lieutenant returns to the doorway and sits on the floor.

As flames hungrily stretch upward like chicks from a nest, they feed on wooden pallets stacked on top of the barrel. Rapidly growing, the flames illuminate the smoke filled room, as they climb the walls searching for more sustenance. Flecks of old peeling paint brilliantly burn off sheet rock walls that refuse to kindle.

Reflections of dancing flames play on the clear lenses of each rookie's mask. Awe struck, one after another the quartet reaches toward the ceiling to feel the intense heat emitted by this blaze. Seeming to be only an illusion, churning black smoke mixed with rolling vaporous flames fill the chamber.

With one hand the lieutenant picks up a charged hose line laying beside him. Clenching the hose under his arm, he adjusts the heavy silver nozzle for a fog pattern and sprays a burst of water at the inferno above their heads. Instantly, the room fills with thick steam, raising an already hot chamber to almost unbearable temperatures. Startled, the destructive fire momentarily retreats from the ceiling, leaving the room dark once again. Sweat rolls off the mask covered foreheads of the fire fighters.

Laughing off the vain attempt to subdue it, the fire quickly spreads back out across the ceiling on its quest to destroy. Allowing the fire to build itself to full fury again, the leader adjusts his nozzle. With a quick more focused blast of water, the seasoned lieutenant pierces the heart of the fire in the barrel. Letting off a thunderous burst of noise and steam, the fire has been mortally wounded. With one short final blast of water the destroyer has been destroyed.

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