Days of Fire

20 May

Where is there a land with summers as hot as those we suffer here in Goresh? the natives of that country ask visitors from elsewhere.

Temperature records proved that such claims were correct.

Marno, a weather forecaster, knew the truth about the cruel weather of Goresh. He dealt with it whenever he placed himself in a prediction trance in order to make a prognosis of what was probably going to happen to atmospheric conditions. His towering, boney form seemed to suit what was expected in an adept weather predictor.

Each summer day appeared to be warmer than its predecessors. Year by year, records were broken by increasing summer heat.

Marno met ever more frequently with the Fire Chief of Goresh City, the veteran public official named Peren. The latter’s operational location was the central downtown firewagon station.

“The situation threatens to grow worse than ever before,” moaned the Chief. “It will certainly set a record for draught, dryness, and buildings catching fire. This city has almost nothing else beyond wooden houses.

“The Ban who rules our country is summoning me daily for reports on how much protection my department can furnish the population, and I can provide him little hope or promise.

“This looks like another miserable summer, doesn’t it?”

Marno gave him a reluctant nod. “All of my dreams and visions look negative,” said the weatherman with a sad sigh. “It is going to be a tragic summer here.”

As the Ban governing all of Goresh, Srko resided in the state palace overlooking the capital city from a hilly peak to its west.

With an instinctive fear if fire that took hold of him in childhood, he grew up in the palace with nightmares of someday perishing in its killing flames.

Srko had inherited the kingly post of Ban in his early teens, when his father suddenly died on a hunting trip in the countryside. Having already lost his mother, the lonely youth was thrust into the highest position in the land. His preparation for its responsibilities had been minimal.

He had to learn to act out a difficult public role, depending on experienced bureaucratic veterans. Fire Chief Peren was among the most important of those he depended upon for advice and information.

“How are your forces prepared for the terrible summer warm spell that is building up?” he asked Peren as they conferred in the palace operations center.

Peren, standing before the seated Ban, tried to appear as confident as possible in his coal black uniform. He was a tall, athletic figure much larger than the Ban of Goresh, a small young man.

“I think that our stations and ranks are ready to fight any fires that result from the heat, sir. The horses have been well fed and maintained, and the water wagons are full and prepared to roll when needed.

“But my fear is that if too many emergencies happen simultaneously, our teams may not be able to reach some of them in time to avoid loss and casualties. But my department is dedicated to do the best job possible, I pledge to you.”

Ban Srko tried to smile. “I intend to focus all our resources on the weather problem. This very afternoon, the Minister of Health and I are going to visit and inspect the primary hospital facilities in the various sectors of the capital. My hope is to learn what more can be done to protect our citizens.”

Lina had experienced astounding success as a practicing physician, first in country villages and then in the capital. At an early age she had become administrator of the central hospital in Goresh City, then director of all the health facilities there. For a year, she functioned as Minister of Health and the main medical advisor of the Ban. The latter had come to depend on what she told him.

The lithe, trim, quite attractive administrator of health services walked slowly besides the Ban as they left the last of the urban hospitals on their inspection schedule. Srko stopped, facing the woman in a suit od white linen and lace.

“It is most impressive, and I think the suffering are being cared of at the present time,” muttered the Ban. “But what will happen when the top temperatures occur and heat hits us like a sledgehammer? I fear that the doctors, nurses, and hospitals are going to be overwhelmed with terrible effects. How will we deal with a colossal disaster, Lina?”

Her pale face began to redden.

“We need all the help that is possible, sir,” she murmured. “But there are never enough resources for what might happen. I myself am hoping for the best.”

“I pray that you turn out to be right,” declared the Ban of Goresh, smiling calmly at her.

As a predictor of future events, Marno attempted to separate his private dreaming during sleep from his profession of prophesizing. He was a person who never had difficulty falling into slumber, and usually enjoyed a fell night of restful unconsciousness.

A strange, unusual dream came to him on a single night and never was repeated.

He stood on one of the hills overlooking Goresh, staring down at the endless waves of roaring, rising flames engulfing the entire city below.

Yellow dominated, but red and reddish orange looked out from the level of houses, offices, stores, and public institutions.

Whatever direction the dreamer looked at, fire was visibly present.

From the disordered streets of the capital, horse-drawn vehicles poured forth into the countryside beyond the city’s limits and boundaries.

The population was fleeing, that was the obviously general decision.

There was no hope for the future of Goresh left in the minds of the inhabitants. The capital was on its way to be deserted. He was witness to the emptying out of all its people and activities.

There would soon be nothing left beyond burned ruins of what had once been.

Goresh was on the verge of death, and the fate of its citizens unforeseeable and unknowable to the dreamer.

The latter awoke with deep pain. Had he witnessed a credible prediction?

Marno did not have to question what he had seen that night. What could it have been but a prophetic vision of what was going to occur to the city because of the heat crisis that it was suffering?

He decided that it was his duty to relate his revelation to those who could make practical use of it. The first person who had to be informed was Fire Chief Peren, who would have a crucial role to play in the future scenario that would save the people of Goresh.

Marno took a street tram downtown to the central fire station and hurried into the office suite of the man he had known for years.

“I have an important development that I must tell you about at once,” announced the weatherman, nearly out of breath with excitement.

Standing before the desk of the Chief, Marno described what he had envisioned while asleep the previous night.

Peren stared at his friend with increasing interest and concern.

“Do you understand this to be prior knowledge of future events in our city’s history, or could it be your personal speculation while unconscious and asleep? This is a very important point to consider, Marno.”

“I take it to be an accurate and truthful insight into what is to come,” declared the one who had experienced the dream. “It deserves our total belief and trust, because it is credible.

“I have never been so sure of any of my typical weather predictions.”

The two of them exchanged intense, powerful looks.

“The government, all the way up to the Ban, must know of what I foresaw,” said Marno with determination. “It is our responsibility to begin the process of relocating the entire population of Goresh City.

“There is no alternative to that.”

“Let me see what I can do as quickly as possible,” decided Peren.

As July neared its end, the daily height of temperature broke all previous records on those particular days. The city grew quiet and motionless. Little horse or pedestrian traffic could be seen. Outdoor venues seemed always empty.

Food prices rose throughout Goresh City, since little was being grown in the countryside and farmers had become frightened hoarders as their crops dried up and died. Markets became deserted as urban residents found out how low basic supplies had fallen.

Old wooden dwellings suffered the most frequent spontaneous conflagrations. The city’s warehouse district saw many storage facilities burn to the ground, reducing the volume of commodities even more.

Hospitals were over-packed with the ill, the suffering, and the dying.

Undertakers were burdened with burying unprecedented numbers of the deceased. Government personnel had to be recruited and assigned to ridding Goresh City of dead inhabitants.

Health Minister Lina wept in private at the merciless tragedy she saw every day before her eyes.

Fire Chief Peren waited for two days for his regular, scheduled meeting with the Ban. This would present him what he considered the proper occasion to bring up the radical solution to the temperature problem that Marno had outlined and described to him.

Only as the final subject of discussion did the Chief go into the matter.

“I have heard a proposal from the weatherman called Marno that is interesting in its nature. He says that the idea of transplanting our city elsewhere, to a much higher and cooler location, occurred to him while he was in unconscious slumber. He claims that although an extreme operation, it would succeed in rescuing great numbers of our citizens from illness or death.

“It seemed appropriate to me that I mention this imagined solution to you, sir. It deserves your judgment of its practicality.

“How do you think the city government should answer him and the proposition that he has brought up, terming it a vision that came to mind for him.”

Ban Srko made a sour grimace.

“I do not have the time to consider how to move everyone and everything to another place. Where exactly would the new city be on the maps? It is impossible to accomplish anything so difficult and expensive without long preparation and planning.

“The city has been where it now is from the birth of our country, and it shall remain here into the far future. That is my answer to what flew into the weatherman’s mind from somewhere. That is all.”

Peren gave a quick, short bow and retreated toward the entrance of the chamber.

The Ban has settled the question of migration, he decided.

Marno voiced his frustration with the result of the Fire Chief’s failure to win approval for the strategy of movement of the city.

“How could that be?” he reacted. “You must not have argued your case well.”

“There was no time or opportunity to mount any kind of argument,” explained Peren. “When one presents something to the Ban, one does not have the privilege of arguing in any sense. His negative decision was reached and expressed instantly.”

“There must be some way of winning a reversal of this initial refusal. We must figure out some other method of getting migration and transfer approved.”

“There is one individual with credibility who may be able to convert the Ban to acceptance of mass removal.”

“Who would that be?”

Peren gave a wry smile. “Lina, the Minister of Health. Perhaps her expertise can make Srko change his mind. At least I will try to recruit her to our way of thinking.”

“I can join and help you,” promised the weatherman.

Lina gaped in astonishment as she heard the plan to evacuate Goresh City in order to save its population.

“Nothing like that has ever happened in the history of our planet!” she cried out with emotion. “How could it be done without mass panic? I doubt whether anything like migration can succeed in the middle of a heat emergency like the one we are now under. And how would this be approved by our prime leader, the Ban? I fear he would turn it down as unrealistic, an imaginary panacea that will end in disaster.”

Peren, who had spoken before, now kept silent, allowing Marno to carry on the argumentation.

“I think there has to be a way of convincing Srko that there is no alternative to abandoning this site and head for higher elevation. Will you at least make an attempt and talk to the Ban on the idea? Time is growing short and action must begin very soon in order to be effective.”

The two men stared directly at the Minister of Health.

“Okay,” she conceded, “I’ll make an attempt.”

It was evident to everyone in Goresh City that the heat crisis was becoming an unprecedented disaster for their country.

Lina had a message sent to the Ban that she had to talk with him at once.

The Ban’s staff commanded her to come to the palace as soon as she could.

Srko was waiting for the Minister of Health in his private office. He rose from his gigantic maple desk and approached near to her by the entrance.

“You have something important for my consideration?” he officiously inquired.

“A possible salvation for the city has come from a vision of the weatherman named Marno,” she reported in a calm, cool voice. “He foresees the possibility of evacuating this site for a higher, more favorable location.”

The Ban’s face reddened and his eyes seemed to bulge forward.

“Is the man trying to ruin our country and its system of rule and administration? I hope that you do not take the idea as a real, serious alternative, because I surely do not.

“Even if it could be done, the movement of such great numbers would take many, many months of time. Perhaps more than a year or so. It certainly would not be something finished quickly. The summer peak season of heat would still see crowds of citizens here in Goresh City.

“The concept is silly and impossible. It sounds like sheer fantasy to me.”

Lina began to tremble a little. “Won’t you think about it? The idea certainly deserves serious consideration, sir.”

“I have rejected it and do not intend to return to such nonsense again,” he stated with force in his voice. “Such a mad enterprise would be dangerous to legal power and authority, for one thing.”

The Ban turned about and went back to his desk, where there were papers for him to examine and sign.

Crestfallen, the Minister of Health made a rapid departure.

Lina met with Peren and Marno at her office at the central hospital of the capital. She described for them her failure to convince the Ban to authorize a general migration.

“He was adamant,” she concluded. “Srko admitted to me that his primary reason for refusal was fear for his continued personal power. He believed that moving the city’s population would endanger his system of power.”

“That means complete defeat for the project, then,” muttered Peren.

“Not necessarily,” replied Lina. “We could save a smaller number on our own. I am thinking of taking away all the patients in the hospitals of Goresh City. That could be accomplished over a single night, using our emergency ambulances and other vehicles. We still have scores of hospital horses available in our barns.”

Peren picked up and advanced the idea. “The fire stations have scores of water wagons and many horses as well. I could order them to carry out mass evacuation of those suffering illness. They are the most vulnerable to the wave of horrible heat.”

“There will be a small army of volunteers willing and capable of hauling the mass of patients into the highlands,” added Marno. “Cooler weather and climate will be available in distant places. Medical personnel and equipment can be sent along with the suffering patients.”

All of a sudden, the three of them began to smile. “This cannot wait, but must go into operation as soon as possible,” said Lina. “I will call a secret meeting of my main subordinates today.”

“And I will assemble my chief fire-fighters,” promised Peren.

“I foresee the plan saving those who are the main victims of this super-heated weather,” said Marno the weather predictor.

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