The red fireball

from an imaginary visit to Lucerne, 2010.

I saw the red fireball spinning in the black night air. I watched it for so long that when I closed my eyes I could still see traces of it, scored into the back of my eyelids like scratches on metal. I had just woken up and left the hotel in a dream-like state, not knowing yet whether I was awake or still asleep. The streets were already full of people even though it had just got dark. They all stood shoulder to shoulder watching the red fireball go round and round, trailing tails of flame as it spun. I felt afraid for the people standing near it, afraid that they would be burned and in running away from it start a stampede in the crowd. But no-one moved. Everyone stared without blinking at the red flame, which now had ceased spinning and instead appeared to be growing, like the film of a noiseless explosion running in extreme slow motion. The heads of the people furthest away from me and closest to the fireball made black silhouettes against the red. I realized that this is what medieval believers had in mind when they thought of the souls of sinners, huddled together in the dark abysses of hell while the scorching plumes of fiery brimstone bore down on them from above.