The Day Mr. Gilliam Visited Hell

Mr. Gilliam worked for a rafting company before he was a teacher. In 2013, while he was still working for that company on the Royal Gorge, he had an eventful day with his friend and coworker of the same first name, Ben. The Bens had pretty simple jobs; they were to keep the families they’d guide on the gorge from drowning and occasionally take pictures of them while telling them about the gorge. 

One day, the Bens had trouble keeping a particular family’s attention. This was because something more enticing had caught their attention. A forest fire not more than a hundred yards away from them had a firm grip on the forest just by the waters they were riding on. Luckily, the fire was far enough away that it didn’t cause anyone much harm. Not yet, anyway. 

Once the Bens got the family to the drop off point, they went back to the send off point. They’d assumed they would just load the next family into a raft and take them through the gorge as well. 

This isn’t what happened. 

There again with another family, the Bens met with a park ranger. This park ranger made it very clear that the family would not be allowed to take the tour because the forest fire had grown in power and crossed the river, meaning it had pretty much claimed a chunk of river for itself. 

Outraged, the family contested this. They were already fully prepped to go rafting, vests and all. They were concerned with what would become of the money they’d spent to take this tour. In this outrage and commotion, the Bens had an idea. A very stupid idea.

They talked with their boss, letting them know of this idea, wanting to make sure that someone knew what they were doing in case something were to happen to them. Once the boss knew, although he probably felt iffy, he didn’t stop them. The idea was that the Bens would sneak away from the others under the veil of the commotion with their own kayaks and follow the river down to the fire. They saw this as something of a once in a lifetime opportunity. Most people don’t even get the chance to see a fire so large, a force of nature, at work like this. 

Once the Bens had successfully snuck away, they rode on flat water for a bit. They could still see the smoke the fire was emitting. It looked like a vicious bomb had gone off, leaving only smoke and enticing misery behind. 

After being on the water for a good while, headed straight towards a serious fire, Gilliam had a few thoughts. He thought about his mother and he wondered if this would be the day he’d die, a silly man and his friend burnt to a crisp. Two Ben hotdogs. 

These thoughts would become more pressing as the Bens came closer to the fire. 

There are five classes of white water river trails, the lowest being a zero, what they were just on. Flat water. Now they were headed straight into class four waters. Normally this was not an issue for the Bens, but they’d soon have more to worry about than usual.

Once the Bens were close enough to the fire, they were completely surrounded by a thick brown smoke, growing thicker and thicker as they rode. So too would the dread and regret Gilliam was feeling. So too would the speed of the waters.

Looking around him, Gilliam realized that he’d got what he wanted. He got to see some fire, and by God did he ever see some fire: the trees in the forest surrounding the gorge were especially susceptible, so they lit like fireworks. Soon, the Bens were completely surrounded by fire. 

It was as if they got a chance to peer into Hell itself, the smoke around them so thick that the Bens couldn’t see far ahead of them at all. Panicked, they started devising a plan for what they could do if the smoke got much thicker. They would flip their kayaks, push themselves out of them and hold their heads in the kayaks in an attempt to protect their lungs from the harsh smoke. Hoping they wouldn’t have to resort to this, they paddled on. 

Gilliam wasn’t quite sure how to feel about what he was experiencing. He’d reached and passed the point where the fire had crossed the river, surrounded by glorious, destructive, beautiful, and evil fire. Amazing and terrifying all at once.

It was the kind of thing you could never find the words for. It was the kind of thing you had to see for yourself.

Finally, the smoke began to thin. Breathing became easier. The Bens could see a little further ahead of them; they’d seemed to have passed the worst of the fire. 

Soon after, the Bens were home free. Ish. While they were away from the fire, they’d realized something when they reached the drop off point. No one was there to pick them up. Nobody could drive them back to where they came from and they certainly weren’t about to walk back. They’d been paddling for several miles by this point and figured the best course of action would be to carry their kayaks to a bar near the gorge. A bar they usually brought their customers to.

It was quite the walk, but when the Bens reached the bar they seemed to have reached salvation. They took time to rest, smelling like they’d each jumped into a campfire and looking about the same.