N o one thought Carl Rasmussen would ever see the light of day again. Then again, no one believed Carl when he said his apostles would rescue him. The federal marshals fought like hell, but even with their firepower, they could not stop the apostles.
I read the newspapers in mute awe. "Firestarter freed in bloodbath, 57 apostles slain." Of course many people never believed any of it. I remember the first time I saw Carl on TV. He stood wearing nothing but blue jeans and a headset screaming into a horde of people, "And the Lord said "A mighty fire will scourge the earth." The crowd screamed back; frothing and incoherent. Carl cried, "I will bring that fire! Come to me and we will cleanse this sickened land! I will give you the chance that no one else can give! I will give us the chance to build a New World in our image!" Sweat streaming off of his wiry torso and the veins in his neck leaping like anacondas, I never wanted to believe in him.
I never knew anyone who listened to the Firestarter's Creed, but like AIDS and unemployment, Carl's message ate at the dark side of my consciousness. We knew Carl was going to try to start the fire soon, before the end of the dry season. We set up roadblocks. We wanted to comb the woods too. But the woods were too huge and we had too few men, so of course, Carl had his apostles start there.
We were tracking all large shipments of combustibles as well as all the movements of heavy machinery and trucks throughout the state and adjoining states. Pickups with dead trees and children with backpacks full of tinder came to the meeting place in the woods and built the pile under the moon's watch. Carl could not have guessed that this would have happened, and I doubt he could have stopped it.
I remember I was at headquarters when we got news on the radio. The fire was so big you couldn't come within three miles of it on ground. They had some aerial reconnaissance taking pictures, but the idea of fighting this apocalypse with a handful of crop dusters was a joke. It was burning like a new sun on earth. We got the call on the radio from the governor to evacuate.
"Sam," my deputy said, "There's no way they can stop this now."
"I know. I know."