The Fire

His head throbbed with the conflictions embedded in the decisions the shadows forced him to make. Interruptions from citizens, challengers and onlookers during his moments of meditation frustrated him more so, leaving him with a feeling of hopelessness to find the precious silence he vehemently seeked to find peace. It was as if he was searching for something everywhere he went, but the very thing he looked for remained not outside himself, but within.

Elliot Allanio brushed through thickets of spider webs that lay atop dried pine leaves that settled on the forest floor as he hiked to gain a vantage point. He checked his G-Shock, five minutes to five o’clock, only an hour left until the sun began its descent.

Tall redwood trees blocked the sky, and the density and closeness of the timber giants kept his eyes downward, on the next step he’d take, so as to navigate about the tree trunks.

The weekend loomed large for Elliot, as he had to rework inventory sheets, handle the imported raw products of his artisanal bread shop, and bake enough rolls, loaves and crackers to earn a profit, a job that required three men to perform over the course of a whole weekend fell upon Allanio’s shoulders. He only gave himself a day to do it all though, Saturday, as he had been taking Sunday to take care of his ill wife’s well-being. She’d contracted ALS the previous year but had only lost function of her legs, and with it, the ability to tend to her errands, so at the conclusion of each week, Elliot took a day to fetch any medication, food, books, pillows or playthings that would ease her discomfort.

Outside of running a business and supporting his wife, the busy man served as City Manager of Sorin, a small, affluent town located in the county of Antopique, a hilly, mainly residential, mostly white population but sparsely sporadicated with pockets of blacks and latinos. The previous Mayor, Lex Winters, had appointed Elliot for the position, it was one of his last enactments before passing away. As an avid bread enthusiast, Winters noticed Elliot’s deep character values and rigid work ethic, so he offered him the job. It didn’t pay much, though, corruption ran heavy in the upper echelons of town officials, but Elliot took what he could get and followed the new Mayor’s directions. The new Mayor, Jonathan Leweeks, a crabby, self-absorbed government official, didn’t cut Elliot any slack, working him from 8 a.m. in the morning to 6 p.m., though often keeping him at the office until 9 or 10 p.m. at the latter end of the week to play catch up on incompetent workers’ duties while refusing overtime pay due to “city financial limits”.

But today was different. Elliot got off work on Friday early, and finished the responsibilities at his bread shop over the course of the evening and the following Saturday morning, so he went for a hike. He had only a modicum of space in his mind between working out the menial problems of the city, finances of his bread shop and the decaying health of his wife. By the time he woke up early each morning, he already knew the long list of fires he had to put out to make it to the next day. Each day, he had to deal with unruly members of the town, nearby competitors of his business, and neighbors nosing in on his wife’s condition, all the while attending to the duties required of a city manager, businessman and husband.

He went on the hike to clear his mind, to get away for just an hour or two, maybe a few or more if he could reach a nice view. He left his phone at his house to disconnect from the frenzy that came with his life. Finally, some time alone for myself, he thought, he his heart rate began to increase and he took a few refreshing breaths of the cold dewy air. He felt energized. As Elliot approached a clearing of trees near the top of the hill, he noticed plumes of smoke in the air. He looked at the view overlooking Sorin. His stomach dropped. Fire had been set upon the town hall of the city. He saw a group of black-dressed men running into black vans and driving away. Then he saw another building just beginning to smoke, his bread shop, and another group of clothed men regrouping into vans. He checked on his house, just a mile from the bakery, and at this point, without surprise, he observed a third group of men pouring gasoline around the perimeter of his cottage and the rest of the property.

He had to think quickly and act, the run down from the hill would be around eight or ten minutes, fifteen, max. If he let the town hall burn, he could lose his job, and wouldn’t have enough money to take care of his wife, but if he let the bakery go, he’d lose his house and be homeless with an ailing wife, and if he didn’t go and save his wife, she’d die. 1,000 thoughts rushed through his mind at that moment. He didn’t know what to do. Adrenaline coursed through his veins and his body. All he could think about was the potential perpetrators of the crime, who they may have been, what group they may belong to, and who he may have upset in the recent past.

He had to decide as he booked it down the hill, dodging the dense layout of redwood trees and trudging his feet through the layer of cobwebs, twigs and leaves while thinking about who, or what, to save. My wife, of course, he thought, but she’s dying, and I need to be able to support her. I can’t without my job at the city, though, and if it gets out that everything valuable to me got destroyed, my bakery’s reputation will go down.

Without a clue regarding his next move, Allanio trusted his instincts, and finally reaching the town after running down the hill, took action.