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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Night of the Long Fires

I was trapped, along with my teenage son and a dozen strangers, during The Night of the Long Fires on the observation platform of the Silway Tower. We had an excellent view of tragic violence, an aerial view of the invasion. It wasn’t the street-level view of bloody individual deaths, as recorded by television reporter (now reported missing) Clémence Grace, but we wept as we watched the wave of fires wash over the city. We could not hear the screams of people, only the gunfire and mortars and the explosions, the sirens of emergency vehicles and the city’s rapid response alarm (which sounded, sadly, much too late to be of any effect.)

The first clear and present omen of the coming conflagrations came early, around 4:30, as the Silway Tower employees were beginning to usher us tourists toward the elevator doors: an explosion at the power-plant, the first of many that rocked us that evening. The tower sway, as is incorporated in its design – for nothing can be completely rigid, there is no unmovable object- kept the building intact, but unnerved us all. As high as we were, on the 71st floor, three windows still shattered in that first blast. A woman from Texas, whose name I never learned, screamed as the heavy glass panes splintered and cracked and fell out into the streets far below. Cold lake wind rushed in. She continued screaming through most of the night.

The Night of the Long Fires was the night that the Leader of the Right Government™ took control of the city, the first of his outright military victories. His followers wore the forbidden insignia, the illegal cockades of red and black and blue. His troops were not a disciplined military, but a band of militant thugs, and petty thieves, armed and angry. Heavily armed and very angry.

We rushed for the elevators, but the power went out with the blast. In any case, we decided that we might be safer atop the tower than in the streets below. Fires were already blooming in the north and west quarters of the city. We tried to call for help, but our cell phones were disrupted and land lines nonfunctional. A portable radio left behind the desk by one of the tower employees provided us with sporadic and contradictory news reports until 6:17 when the Leader’s troops took control of the airwaves and began broadcasting the Leader’s now famous Fire Night Speech:

“I can speak with a thousand tongues and I am not changed. Not one iota. I remain as I was. The traits of my character have not changed, and will not change, not in a year, not in two thousand years. Our future is conditioned on fanaticism, yes, intolerance. We must push past all other formations. Victory over competitors.

“We are not professors, nor diplomats, nor auteurs, nor effeminate members of the intelligentsia, nor diplomaed educrats, nor scholars with starched white collars, but an army of sleepwalkers, telephone sanitizers, street cleaners, sewer sweepers, and illiterate locksmiths. We are Die ursprüngliche seele – the original souls – the ignorance battalions, and we have come for the tapeworms and gravediggers who are responsible for our present gastro-economic catastrophes. We will cleanse this city of all the short-headed and pig-sighted big mouths and big-noises cowering in the back rooms of the capitol.

“And when we have taken the city we will cite the value of silence and praise the mouth of darkness! Let all those who want to live, fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal, glorified struggle, do not deserve to live.”

If Malcolm X can crib lines from Cole Porter then, I suppose, the Leader of the Right Government™ can steal from Hitler. What’s to stop him? That message continued to play, on repeat-over and again-all through the Night of the Long Fires. We memorized it - unconsciously, unintentionally. The words burned into our brains and the long fires destroyed the city.

By 9:10 they had reached the Armory – built like a bunker, like a castle and crowded with Republican guards and Republican candidates. But even that stronghold fell to the fires. Weapons, sabotage, interrogations, as it was before, so it continues.

When the helicopters arrived, many bullets flew.  But fire leaped and danced in the air and the helicopters were brought down. Substitute Arizona for Iraq and Nevada for Palestine; the city became like any other war-zone.

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