T he flames leap and flicker, hiss and spit. Ramon gazes, entranced.

He watches as, in a shower of scarlet sparks, the oak suddenly folds in on itself and the door collapses.

The entrance to the store room is like the charred, gaping maw of a dragon. He only has to step through and he will be able to search for the documents of his birth; somewhere in there is a record of his ancestry. But the burning timber catches a table leg, the fire spreads upward.

He steps inside. In one part of his mind, he registers the heat, the searing of his skin; a droplet of sweat falls down from his face and lands on his hand. But his body feels distant, he is hypnotized by yellow and orange and scarlet. A table leg. A pile of books. The acrid smell of smoke and burning and the animal scent of parchment and dried ink. His eyes sting and tear but he simply stands, watching and waiting. There is no fear inside him, only an eerie calm.

Is the flame of this world or the spirit world? He reaches out to touch it, but though it stings his skin, there is nothing to grasp. He tries, again and again, to catch a scarlet tongue in his palm, but he cannot catch it.

The Scriptures are filled with fire: Moses, at the inauguration of his leadership — that blazing fire in the middle of a thorn bush, and yet the bush was not consumed. There was the rebellion of Korah, 250 followers all burned by a Heavenly fire.

He lifts his hands, to embrace it all: the burning letters and parchment, the orange inside his eyes, his hands, the black smoke. He doesn’t know where it came from, but maybe that something inside him has combusted and all has become red flame.

A push, he stumbles back. A hand on his neck, his robe. He is dragged out. He flails against them. This is the place of flame and revelation. This is where blood leaps out of the air and the sun boils iron and throws it back as yellow arrows.

He is pushed. Now he is on the ground. The ground is cool. The grass is wet, all is dark. Sudden pain jolts through him. He lifts his sleeves and lays his bare arms over the grass, it soothes the agony. A storm of sound: lightning forks of fire, thunderous yells.

And then there is a face.

He blinks.


Bernat’s round face is on top of him and he shouts, but Ramon does not know what he is saying. Bernat clasps him under his arm, around his chest, pulls him to his feet. Together, they stumble backward, away from fire, room, priory.

Novices line up, pairs of hands passing pails of water from hand to hand and hand. The slosh of water, the hiss of fire, the sound of grunting as novices, sworn to silence, urge each other to work faster, faster, more water from the well, more, faster.

Friar Pere runs through the night, arms lifted, a wail coming from the dark hollow of his mouth. Brother Francis comes with his rowan stick.

Now Bernat pulls him up onto a bale of hay. He sees black figures, a night lit up with orange, like purgatory. The cry of flame and man, combined in a pillar of smoke. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 559)