The beast's ascendancy came in a flash. Thousands of flashes triggered a blinding burst of explosions and agonizing screams which retched with a searing heat, a holocaust unimaginable, belching forth an angry swirl of flames and flesh that regurgitated a rumbling on this earth not heard since the beginning of time. Spewing forth all the anger he could muster the beast rocked the asphalt asunder beneath the unknowing inhabitants that day on the Field of Abraham. Not a soul was spared; so thorough the devastation. In a diameter of a quarter of a mile an enormous mushroom mass of humanity erupted into the Iraqi sky, blotting out the sun above and all life below, erasing the dreams billions around the globe had envisioned as they watched in stunned shock. This was no dream. It was a nightmare this world had never seen.
For a second - which seemed an eternity - the rush of light on the screen and an unearthly sound had ripped at the heart of every viewer the world over. It was as if a surrealistic pallor had settled on the viewer as realization sought to catch up with what they had just seen with their own eyes in the comfort of their own domiciles, away from this horrendous conflagration. Never were so many mesmerized by the static of a blank screen.
Within seconds the network had flashed a logo on the screen, immediately followed by a bewildered Trevor Anders in studio. He was stammering as he looked toward the floor director, "Our satellite communication from Iraq has been knocked out. While we wait for reports to come in, we can only assume that some type of explosion has disrupted communications."
A technician set a sheet of paper on the desk near Trevor. Off camera, one could hear calls of "Read it, Trevor. Now dammit."
He glanced down. As he read it he continued to ad-lib to the audience, "We can't exactly tell you what happened, ladies and gentlemen. We do know we have lost all contact with Briana and the rest...we are working on re-establishing communications with..." The floor director was waving frantically at the clueless anchor, dispatching a desk reporter with a second sheet of paper. The young reporter raced to the desk slapping the paper in front of Trevor and then as quickly ducked out of camera view.
An ashen look fell on his face as he read the words on the second paper. He gulped and looked up at the camera, "We have terrible news, ladies and gentlemen, terrible news. Satellite confirmations confirm there has been a tremendous explosion at the Field of Abraham in Iraq." Tears were starting to flow unwillingly from his eyes. "I'm afraid there...ah, please stay tuned to GNN for further..." Trevor Anders couldn't finish, he swiveled in his chair away from camera and, with his back to the camera, he regurgitated the pastrami and rye he had wolfed down a few hours ago.
As he continued to vomit, shouts of "Cut, go to a commercial" echoed in the studio over the set and a Miller Beer spot began to run. Ah, the good life!
"Oh, Pat, this can't be happening?" Corrie was crying uncontrollably.
Ben was as white as the ghosts that had hovered over his bar just a few hours before. Pat was in a state of shock, an unexpected comatose emotion that was being multiplied a billion times globally.
"I don't believe it!" a stunned Pat mumbled.
Silence followed for a few seconds. It was Ben who interrupted the pall that had settled. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, have mercy on their souls. "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Requiescat in Pace. Amen."
It was a layman's last rites, administered to no one soul in particular and to every soul who had perished in an instant on this Field of Abraham that had held such promise just minutes before. It would from henceforth be known as the "Field of Death."
Ben's prayer was a communication of love that transgressed all high tech satellites and fiber optic gismos that the old Irishman never did understand. No channel was faster or more powerful than prayer. The sincerity from Ben's trembling lips went non-stop to Heaven in less than a microsecond. There was no busy signal, no download problems. It went straight to the heart of God. The omniscient One knew. Why He allowed the beast to prey on so many and this day to smash to smithereens the bodies of nearly one million would only be answered in another realm. By then few would remember the utter finite sadness and loss they felt this moment as news spread at breakneck speed across wires.
Within minutes a link to An Nasiriyah was hooked up by rival CNN. One of their correspondents was blithering into the mike. It wasn't important who he was or that he would forever be grateful for allergies to the local mosquito. The fever and reaction to the local meds had made him too weak to attend. Now he had a front row. There was competition to be found as he described the squalid scene 20 miles on the horizon. All his cohorts were dead. The viewers were told choppers were on the way to get closer shots. A hospital ship in the Gulf had already dispatched 8 medic copters. Their journey would be in vain.
The signal had gone out to all military to be on the alert, stage five. Four squadrons of U.S. fighter jets were launched from the deck of the Ticonderoga in the Gulf and three squadrons scrambled from the Incirlik strategic Air Force base near Ankara, Turkey. Britain was already airborne with two squadrons, as was NATO with three, the Russians with four and the Syrians two. They would find nothing left.
"That was a damn nightmare!" Pat growled at no one in particular.
"No, Pat, that was hell we just saw. An inferno. Christ Almighty!" It was the closest old Ben had come to cursing in forty years.
Pat realized Ben had nailed it. "He's right, Corrie, what we just saw was all hell breaking loose!"
She struggled as if grasping at straws, tears pouring down her face. "What are we going to do, Pat? Who's left?"
It was at that split second that it dawned on him that indeed the world could be in chaos. The life of every major religious leader of the world had been snuffed out in that explosion. Moreover, so had so many world leaders who were there for ceremonial reasons. What was happening? What did it mean?
Who did this? Why?
The reporter in Pat Gallagher resurfaced, "I've got to get to the Mirror right away. I want to be in on this. I have to be?"
Corrie could only wheeze weakly, "Why? Why now?"
"Because," he answered through clenched teeth, "when that Black Fire clears we're gonna see what hell really looks like."
Corrie wrapped her arms around Pat and sobbed, "I'm frightened, Pat, don't leave. Please, don't. I won't lose you. I'm so afraid."
"I know," he assured her, lifting her face, studying it for a moment before planting a kiss on her forehead. "I'm afraid, too. But we can't let it petrify us. If we do, it'll win."
Ben interceded, "He's right, lass, I know what burns in his gut. Make sure it's in harmony with your heart, Patrick." Taking Corrie's hand, he motioned Pat with a nod towards the door. "Go with God, my boy. Carry Him with you always."
A squeeze of her hand, a quick all-too-short kiss, a hug for Ben and Pat was gone.
Corrie buried her head in Ben's chest as he patted her back gently, "There, there, dear girl, God be with us. He be with Pat, too, I know in me heart that be," Ben tried to assure her. Even with the strength of this staunch Irish Catholic's faith, doubt crept into his voice.
Corrie didn't really detect that. She was lost in a vacuum of emptiness, sucked in by this sight of that tidal wave of black fire. Would she ever be able to blot it out? She also knew in her heart that part of her was gone. Her soul mate had left. Would she ever see him again? Possibly she never would. She knew him well enough to realize he would not stop until he had found out every detail of this heinous event. She hoped and prayed she'd be strong enough to stand by him through it all, just to stand next to him. A new wave of guilt recycled the tears as her thoughts darted back to how she had taken him for granted so many times. Now even that guilt was suffocated by the overpowering evil of the Black Fire that consumed so many senses on this night in Dallas that had truly turned out to be the night of the devil.
Across town in Edwin Blix' Turtle Creek Mansion things were not going well. Blix, a 69-year-old self-made millionaire, was just finishing on the phone. Orange peels littered the floor, broken shards of glass strewn with a reddish juice.
"You better find out what happened and why? Goddammit. I pay good money to make sure things go as clockwork. No excuses. Get on it. We need to find out what went wrong! We must recoup what was lost. Now!"
The wiry and gaunt figure slammed his fist down with the force of Thor on the black teak table next to his overstuffed chair, then hit the speed-dial on his cell phone. Three rings made him further agitated, "About time. Blix here. Get Collier's Mirror credentials and high tech clearance so he's at Love Field within the hour. I'm sending him to Iraq. Johannsen and Roybal were killed in the blast. Dammit, we've got to have someone there as soon as possible. We're a daily, dammit. Get on it. Now! I don't expect you to fail, Vic."
Immediately the obnoxious, short-tempered publisher of the Metroplex Mirror speed-dialed again, "Soto, have the plane fueled and ready to roll by 3 a.m. No, I'm not going...not yet, I'm sending a reporter to stay on top. Watch him like a hawk. Report back to me on channel 6. See that nothing goes wrong. Have the plane return immediately. Throw two coffins together of anyone you find and we'll claim it's Johannsen and Roybal. I'll have Edgar prepare the funeral notices. Got it? Good. Do it!"
He flicked the cellular across the table and screamed out, "Annnsss!!!"
Before he could reload his lungs, Ans Ichariak appeared in the doorway. Ans was his chauffeur, twin brother of Soto Ichariak. Both were of Turkish origin, short, stumpy, bald eunuchs. They had many, many faults, but both had one trait Blix treasured in these pandering servants: loyalty. They were fiercely loyal to Blix. That was enough to keep them on the payroll for few could be counted on to be trusted. The trouble was that lately their spying for him had been bungled more than once. Like everyone in Blix' life they were becoming expendable, but not just yet. They were still useful for awhile. After that he would have no need of them, of anyone.
"Sir, you are in need?" Ans groveled.
Without looking at his pathetic chauffeur, Blix remonstrated the man, "Can you not see I have no more oranges, Ans? Do you not realize that is not good? I need my nourishment. What do you suggest we do about it?"
Nodding patronizingly, Ans started toward the doorway to replenish his boss with more blood red Valencia oranges shipped Fed Ex three times a week from Italy's finest groves.
Blix waited until Ans had turned around, then, "Oh, and one other thing, Ans, my good man."
Ichariak turned meekly, "Yes, sir?"
"Clean up this damn mess!!!" he screamed. Then, turned toward the pieces of orange and glass on the terrazzo floor as the sarcasm dripped off his tongue, "Why do you think I pay you?"
Ans hurried to scoop up the flailed pieces when Blix barked, "Annnss!!!!
Bewildered, Ans was miffed. "Ye - yes, sir?"
"You have your priorities askew." Blix' stare could melt lava. "Fresh oranges first." Poor Ans, he couldn't win. No one could with Edwin Blix.
Next issue: Second Chapter - Episode Three
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and all rights are the exclusive rights of The DAILY CATHOLIC who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The DAILY CATHOLIC, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, fifteen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental.
WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!