Heat Wave

Issue 36 by Aaron William

Heat Wave

Gooooooooooood morning Woodfield! This is Kap Freeman with your drive time weather update. It’s gonna be HOT again today! [cue: sizzling bacon sfx] Mostly sunny with a High of 92, heat indexes creeping into the triple digits. Continuing into this evening with tonight’s low only getting down to 81. [cue: loud barfing sfx] Then HOT again tomorrow! [cue: sizzling bacon sfx] high of 95! So, crank up that AC or find some shade, and slather on that SPF 1000 folks, ‘cause there is no end in sight for this record-breaking heat wave! Stay tuned for more updates. And now back to your morning classics, I’m Kap Freeman W-N-N-A, Woodfield!

 

Kap Freeman’s weather update ended and Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in The City” took over the radio.

 

Hot town, summer in the city

Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty...

 

“Fuck my life,” Jon muttered as he turned the radio down and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “The light’s green! Go!” Jon honked his horn at the daydreaming driver in front of him. “Jesus. I hate this fucking heat.”

It was only 8:30 a.m. and already 84 degrees. The AC in Jon’s beige Honda Accord had stopped working two summers ago. He had started sweating almost immediately upon leaving the house. Now his light blue, short-sleeved, button-down shirt was soaked clear through and he hadn’t even made half of the eleven-minute drive to work. And judging by the moist sensation in his undershorts, to Jon’s disgust, his khakis would soon be soaked as well.

Jon loathed the heat. Hot, sunny weather was Jon’s mortal enemy since he could remember. His bright orange hair and pale skin just made matters worse. His mother had always told him the story of a family vacation to Florida that they had taken when Jon was a toddler. He had gotten a horrible sunburn and was sick and vomiting from the heat the entire time. It was his first documented losing battle with the heat, but absolutely not his last.

His sunburn record was quite impressive. Including, but not limited to: swelling, oozing, blistering, peeling… and let’s not forget, facing the public with skin a shade of red that was completely unnatural and ridiculous. The ridicule had crossed the line to bullying more times than Jon cared to remember. He also learned very quickly that showing up to a date with a hilariously red face is most often a deal-breaker.

Sunburns are just the beginning. Jon genuinely enjoyed staying active, exercising, and jogging. It was his therapy, his meditation. But when it was hot, even just 80 degrees, being outside sucked the energy straight out of his body, as if the bright hand of the sun was reaching down his throat and ripping out his soul. The sweating, the squinting, the damp, moldy, humid hell of a Midwest summer; this was his nemesis, and Jon had lost every battle.

Jon was a cold weather person. “Cold blooded,” his mother used to say, and he longed for winter. He longed for the cool, crisp, morning air, the jackets, sweaters, hats, gloves, and long johns. For Jon there was nothing better than going out for a jog after a fresh snow. That was where he thrived. That was his comfort, his freedom. But here he was, in the heart of the Midwest, during the hottest part of summer, navigating the morning traffic to a job he couldn’t care less about, pissed off at every other driver on the road, sweating his balls off. Sure, winter will get here eventually. It always does. But it was only August, and just like Kap said,No end in sight for this record-breaking heat wave.”

Jon found his way to his office building, parked, and shuffled across the parking lot with his backpack slung over one shoulder, and a hand up to his brow, to shade his slitted eyes from the sun. As he entered the five-story office building, a sweet, cool rush of relief swept over him. If there was one thing Jon loved about office buildings, it’s that they are generally freezing. Everyone else Jon worked with always complained it was too cold, but not Jon. He loved the cold. He relished it. It was his favorite part of his job. The first person he saw, just like every other day, was Dave, the security guard.

“Morning, Dave,” Jon said. “Jesus, can you believe this heat?”

“Morning, Jon. Yep, brutal.” Dave didn’t look up from his newspaper. He had stopped asking to see Jon’s ID badge years ago. “Have a good one.”

Jon continued past the security desk, and took a left down the hall toward the cubicle farm. The room opened up and he was just about to turn down the aisle his cube was in, when he was intercepted by Patty. Huge, blond, colorful, sickeningly happy, Patty.

“Well, good morning sunshine!” Patty’s dangly kitty-cat earrings bobbled as she beamed at Jon. Her bright red-with-blue-flowers muumuu dress was stretched to the limit at every square inch. She giggled, “Uh oh! Someone had an accident!” She was staring at the large wet oval covering the entire front of Jon’s shirt.

Jon rolled his eyes without trying to hide it. “It’s sweat, Patty. In case you didn’t notice, it’s a freaking blast furnace outside.”

“Well, aren’t you a gloomy Gus! Turn that frown upside down, mister, it’s a beautiful day!” Her smile didn’t waver. Jon had begun to think her face was permanently like that. He thought, surely it’s possible for “resting bitch face” to have an opposite, right? Like, “resting manic smiley face” This secret insult lifted Jon’s gloom up a couple notches. He made his way past Patty without any more words, entered his cube, and sat. Just get through the day, just get through the day, just get through the day.

Jon signed into his computer and switched on the small desk radio he was allowed to have on at a low volume. This time “Stairway to Heaven” played over the airwaves. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked the screen. It was steamed foggy from the heat and sweat in his pocket. Not surprisingly, he had no messages, so he slid it right back into his pocket. When his computer finally booted, he routinely opened his email. He had only one message from his boss, Greg:

— I need the CTM contract by noon —

Jon looked at the tray on his desk with a small white label that read: Inbox. The stack of paperwork had seemed to double in size somehow between 5 p.m. yesterday and 9 a.m. today. Perplexing. The top contract in the box was the CTM contract. He lifted it out and clunked it on his desk, realizing that it had been most of the stack. Jon flipped to the last page and the number on the bottom was eighty-seven.

What the hell?! He wants me to read and finalize an eighty-seven-page contract before noon?!? Bullshit! Jon had been in a bit of hot water with Greg since he had allowed his backlog to pile up, and he had been late for work nearly every day for the last three weeks. Although he had been with the company thirteen years, he had only been a Contract Compliance Specialist for ten months and had yet to impress his new boss. Today of all days! Why couldn’t it have been any other day when I’m not so drained by the heat! Jon sighed and squeezed his eyes shut, as if in pain. I have to do this. I just have to bear down and get it done. I will do it. Just get through the day. Just get through the day. Just get through the day.

Page, after page.

After page.

After page.

After page.

After page.

Jon read, analyzed, reread, underlined, crossed out, circled, highlighted, and powered through. By 11:00 a.m. he had gotten to page fifty-two, but only page fifty-two. He was on his fifth cup of coffee, and two dark semicircles grimly highlighted each bag underneath his eyes. Kap Freeman came over the tinny sounding radio speaker.

 

Hellooooo Woodfield! Kap Freeman here with another weather update. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter, we’re currently sitting at 97 and rising! So, we’ve already surpassed our previously forecasted high temp for the day, the new high expected to reach, get this, 109 by 1:00 p.m. with heat indexes pushing 120! [cue: sizzling bacon sfx] Not sure what is causing this, folks, but it should taper off by 8:00 p.m. So, try to stay indoors if possible, and drink plenty of water. I’ll continue to report any updates every half hour. In other news, we’re getting reports from northern Canada and Greenland of some major storms and flooding. I don’t know about you folks but a nice cool shower and a dip in the ocean sounds pretty good to me about now! [cue: sigh of relief sfx] And now back to good time jams, I’m Kap Freeman W-N-N-A, Woodfield!

 

Lovin’ Spoonful with “Summer in the City.” Again.

 

Been down, isn’t it a pity

Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

 

Oh god, Jon thought, how many times are we going to hear this stupid song today? He plopped his forehead down onto his desk with a thud. He muttered to himself, “Fuck my life. I have to get away from this heat. I have to. Why do I even live in this town? I need to move to fucking Antarctica.”

“What you need to do is get me that contract by noon, Jon.” Jon, startled, snapped his head upright to see Greg standing in the opening of his cubicle. “I have a hard-noon lunch meeting with the people at CTM and they fully expect me to go over the meat and potatoes of our analysis. Why are you laying your head down? Were you talking to yourself? Jesus, you look like shit. After you get done with that contract, by noon, take this afternoon off. Get some sleep for Christ’s sake.” Greg walked away.

Jon’s mind was screaming, Fuck my liiiiife!!! He knew he had to keep working on the CTM contract. He made sure Greg was out of sight and flipped about fifteen pages ahead. It was 11:20. He had forty minutes to get through twenty more pages.

Page after page.

After page.

After page.

After page.

Crossing out.

Underlining.

Circling.

11:55, and, after skipping five more pages somewhere in the seventies, Jon was on page eighty-seven, the last page. Lovin’ Spoonful came back over the airwaves, yet again.

 

All around, people looking half dead

Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

 

“Seriously?” Jon said aloud, talking toward his radio. “Okay Kap, this is getting a little ridiculous.” He glanced at the clock and got back to the last page. He skimmed it.

Crossed out.

Crossed out.

Underlined…. Done!

 

But at night it’s a different world

Go out and find a girl

Come-on come-on and dance all night

Despite the heat it will be alright

 

“Whew!” Jon got up with the contract and headed toward Greg’s office. On his way he noticed Patty across the cubicles, on her cell phone with a grave expression on her face. Ho-ly shit, Jon thought. She does have a different expression beside “manic smiley face.” He smirked at this thought. He got to Greg’s office and no one was there. The dickhead was riding my ass, and now he’s not even here to take the stupid contract! Jon tossed it onto Greg’s chair, disgusted, and left the room. Despite Greg being a dickhead, his idea for Jon to take the afternoon off and nap in the air conditioning was a winner. On his walk back to his cubicle, Jon again noticed Patty, this time almost in tears, with her hand over her mouth. Jeez, whoever she’s talking to must have bad news. He felt a little bad about his ill thoughts toward Patty, but it quickly faded. He noticed several other people standing around, all talking with concerned, almost scared expressions.

What the hell is going on? He got back to his cubicle right as the clock turned 12:00, and Kap Freeman’s voice chimed in on the radio. Except this time, he had a tone Jon didn’t recognize. Jon had been listening to Kap Freeman for at least ten years, and no, this wasn’t at all the overly jubilant voice he had come to know.

 

Okay folks, no joking around here, we’ve discovered a rather serious phenomenon is happening all over the world. Our current temp is 112 and rising. There have been numerous reports of severe storms, floods and other extreme weather all over the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia.

 

Jon just sat, staring at the radio. Kap continued.

 

Other regions, like here in the Midwest, are reporting rising temperatures and extreme heat. This hasn’t been confirmed folks, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but some European news outlets have reported that scientists are saying that it seems as though the earth’s rotation… is slowing. Kap’s voice paused for several seconds, then continued. This is hard for us here to believe, but it’s what we’re hearing. Reports of mass casualties in the northern regions are coming in constantly. Air conditioners are starting to fail. Our thermometer outside the station now reads 116 and rising. This is it folks, this is a dire situation. Stay indoors, I repeat, do not go outside. Keep your air conditioners running. If they quit, move to the lowest level you can, ideally a basement. Keep plenty of water available. We have canceled our regular programming in order to provide you with continuous updates on the situation.

 

Jon, stunned, abruptly stood back up and gawked dumbly at the little radio on his desk. “Oh. Shit.” He heard a police siren outside. Did he say the earth’s rotation was slowing?! What does that even mean? He looked toward where Patty was just moments ago, and she was gone. He scanned the office and saw everyone getting up and heading for the doors. Jon grabbed his bag and followed suit. When he got outside, it was as if he was hit with a heat bazooka.

Some of the worried murmurs turned to cries and screams, and more sirens erupted all around. The sun was a blast of light and heat. Jon closed his eyes against it. When he could finally open them to thin slits, he saw people running to their cars, holding their hands up to block the sun, or using purses and briefcases if they had them. He saw Patty, lumbering her humongous frame in her red-with-blue-flowers muumuu, toward her car, screaming. Seeing this scene, Jon couldn’t help but think of the lyrics to “Summer in The City,” since he’d heard it at least three times that morning. It was dismally accurate.

 

All around, people looking half dead

Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

 

Just then the tornado siren began its haunting crescendo; ooooowwwwwaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

The sound caused Jon to immediately recall a YouTube video he had seen of a battle somewhere in the Middle East, with bomb sirens drowning out screams, and glowing orbs of terror raining hell on an ancient city. Here and now, there was only one glowing orb of terror, raining hell on this small, slightly more modern city. The sun. It was burning and relentless. Jon could feel the skin on his bare arms and face heating up, ready to burn. Sweat was already flowing down his forehead into his face. This is bad this is bad this is bad this is bad.

Jon snapped out of his panic trance and started sprinting toward his car. His shirt was completely soaked through by the time he got to it. He pressed the unlock button on his key fob during the run. He whipped the door open, plopped down on the seat, and slammed the door shut while simultaneously shoving his key into the ignition. The relief of being sheltered from the sun was completely consumed by the stagnate kiln the interior of his car had become. “Jeeesuuuuuuus!” Jon screamed with his teeth bared in a painful grimace. He turned the key and the Accord rattled to life. His fingers were stabbing at the window buttons, trying to get all four of them down as fast as possible. Out of the windshield, he saw a Chevy truck squeal its tires as it raced for the exit, only to be stopped in its tracks when it T-boned a Cadillac that was also attempting an escape.

Jon’s hair was completely “shower soaked” and matted to his head and brow. Every piece of clothing he had on was dripping wet. His heart was slamming. Shit! Jon thought, I have to call Mom! He reached into his pocket for his phone. When he wrestled it out and saw the screen, it was completely fogged, and he could even see droplets of water that appeared to be inside the phone. He punched the screen with his thumb, and nothing happened. He hit it again. Three more times. Clicked the side button. Nothing. The moisture from the heat and sweat of Jon’s pocket had infiltrated his phone, and killed it. “FUUUUUUUUCK!!!!” Jon threw the phone into the passenger seat in frustration.

He looked out at the parking lot to plan his route so as to avoid the same mistake the Chevy truck and the Cadillac had made. That mess was reduced to a scene that was somewhat comical. Squealing tires in reverse, trying to pry apart their vehicles, both parties mouthing screams at each other, but windows still up to save the precious AC air, and neither daring to get back out into the sun.

At this moment Jon never regretted anything more, than he regretted putting off getting the AC in his car fixed. He shifted into drive and hit the gas. His final decision on a route was to curl around the outside and flank the exit in order to avoid the idiots. His tires squeaked slightly, and he sped toward the outside row. Out of nowhere, a blue Prius caught his peripheral vision and was about to side swipe him. By reflex, Jon slammed on the brakes, and the Prius whizzed by, missing his front end by inches. He immediately stomped the accelerator again to follow the Prius around and to the exit. He could hear more crunching metal and screaming as the collisions around him mounted. As he picked up speed, the breeze through the open windows felt cool on his sweaty skin. Still right behind the Prius, he followed it around the turn at the edge of the lot, and toward the exit. Jon eased up on the accelerator as they approached the exit. The Prius did not and pulled farther ahead of him.

Just as it reached the exit and started the turn left into the street, a gold Chrysler Sebring, going at least 50 mph, blasted into the rear end of the Prius. Jon recognized the Sebring. It was Patty’s. The Prius’ back windshield shattered and the right rear tire exploded. Jon was on his way to becoming the third vehicle in that three-car accident, when he jerked the wheel to the left and bounced over the concrete curb that bordered the perimeter. It was a horrendous bounce, and Jon’s head slammed into the ceiling of his car as he collided with the curb. His foot remained on the gas pedal, and he was now tearing across the grassy patch between curbs. In the space of a few seconds, he was at the next curb that bordered the street. Still seeing stars from the first blow to the head, he braced himself for the second impact. This one wasn’t as bad since he was going down instead of up. When he hit, the jolt was fierce but no head trauma this time. The tires chirped as they hit the street pavement. Jon turned left, adjusted the wheel so the car was pointed parallel with the road, and pushed the accelerator to the floor. The Honda took off. He made it. He escaped work. The breeze picked up and was a sweet, nourishing relief. He reached up and turned up the radio volume to hear a solemn Kap Freeman.

…now 124 degrees and still rising. This is unprecedented. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are at FULL WORLDWIDE EMERGENCY.

 

As Jon sped down the street, although the breeze was a cool relief at first, it was losing its effect. He looked at his left arm, which was still exposed to the searing sun and noticed it was now a dark pink color, and he could feel the familiar stingy, sticky feeling of an imminent sunburn forming. He quickly tucked it across his body and out of direct sunlight. He saw very few other cars on this street, but he still heard the tornado siren’s thunderous, eerie song, and police and fire sirens all around. His mind raced to come up with a plan. He listened to Kap for ideas. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

 

All of the major news outlets both here and abroad are now reporting that it’s apparent that scientists have known the earth’s rotation was showing signs of irregular movement on its axis for several weeks, which, incidentally, is about when the heat wave first started. Only top government intelligence officials were made aware at first, but they kept this information classified in order to prevent mass hysteria.

 

What the hell are you talking about Kap!” Jon yelled at the radio. “No way the earth’s rotation is slowing! That’s crazy! Jesus!”

 

New reports are predicting that the planet will come to full stop by 12:20 p.m. local time today. Kap’s demeanor broke. He sounded like he was talking off-mic. Is this right?! Holy Christ.

 

Jon continued driving, now wide-eyed and in a state of shock. Full stop? Kap Freeman just said that planet earth is coming to a full stop? Is this a dream?! He knew it wasn’t. He knew because it hurt, and dreams aren’t supposed to hurt. His arm had slipped back into the direct sunlight and was burning. He knew he had to get to full shade, and fast, or he would literally cook. Kap continued through the speakers.

 

At that point, scientists are saying the world’s oceans will continue to be pulled toward the north and south poles, completely submerging everything, including entire countries. Dear God! Expect worldwide shifts in weather and climate. The middle regions of the planet, namely the regions facing the sun will experience continuous daylight, and heat levels that will eventually reach approximately 230 degrees before leveling off. This is what we’re facing here in Woodfield, now 130 and rising. The other side of the planet will be in permanent darkness and will continue to cool, eventually reaching frigid temperatures close to negative 100.

 

As Jon sped down the street, and listened to Kap Freeman report the apocalypse, he was now finding it hard to breathe, and he felt his vision blurring. The heat and the panic had partnered up, and challenged Jon’s nervous system and consciousness to a grudge match. Alas, nervous system and consciousness were in a much lower weight class, and receiving the beating of a lifetime. Heat and panic, the deadly duo, had only one objective for Jon: total shutdown.

He couldn’t waste any more time, and he knew he wouldn’t make it all the way home, not that his AC would be working even if he could stay awake for the drive. So home wasn’t even an option anymore. He raced down the street scanning left and right looking for something, anything that could be an option.

He spotted something. Lewis Park pavilion. Yes, that just might buy him some time. He wasn’t even aware he was approaching Lewis Park until he saw the roof of the pavilion appear around the bend. He couldn’t escape the heat, but at least it would be full shade, and that would give him a few extra minutes more to try and survive. That’s what it had come to. Survival. Only one concern. Only one problem. Prime directive number one: Stay. Alive.

As he raced toward the pavilion, he couldn’t believe Kap Freeman was still talking.

 

I just don’t believe this. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the day of reckoning. Officials’ only suggestion is to gather your loved ones, and as many supplies as you can carry, and get underground. It’s what they are doing. It’s the only hope for survival. Unfortunately, there’s no time. Only those that are near underground structures, mines, caves, and the like, will live. The rest of us, well, God help us. Now 135 and rising.

 

Jon’s skin was rapidly swelling on his left forearm. His neck started to burn where flickers of sunlight now and then made contact. The pain was excruciating. The sweat continued to pour down his face. He finally decided to abandon the road and make a straight line toward the pavilion. The car lurched as he left the pavement and bounced into grass. It wasn’t far now. The pavilion was getting closer and closer as he headed straight for it. Right as he was about to careen into the pavilion, he stomped the brake pedal and came to a sliding halt in the grass just feet from the first picnic table under the roof.

He shoved the gear shift into park and grabbed his bag, but suddenly paused. Did he hear something? Over the howl of the tornado siren? A child screaming? He shook it off and opened the door and got out. The sun sent white-hot pokers directly into both of his eyes. He was immediately enveloped in a burning blanket of fire. His already burnt left forearm screamed with pain. He held his bag over his head and bounded like a triple jumper to the pavilion. He was there in five seconds and collapsed. To his agonizing disappointment, there was little relief under the pavilion. Yes, he was now in complete shade, but it was still 135 degrees (and rising), and he had lost the breeze from the moving car.

“Fuck my liiiife!” Jon screamed. He was face down on searing concrete, next to a wooden picnic table, and that, he’d decided, was where he would die. Roasted by the heat, the day the sun stopped in the sky. He could still hear Kap from the Honda, which he had left running, with the door open, just a few feet away.

 

The air conditioner has stopped working here at the station, and it’s already 104 degrees in our studio. No air conditioner in the world can last in these conditions. Outside now 138 and still rising. Folks, the sun is literally stopping in the sky at high noon. With that, this is Kap Freeman, signing off. Here’s one last tune.

 

In the summer, in the city

In the summer, in the city

 

Jon giggled at Kap’s last attempt to serenade the listening public to their deaths with that stupid Lovin’ Spoonful song they’d been playing all damn morning. Then, that sound again, even over the slow peaks and valleys of the tornado siren. The sound like a child screaming. Yes. Yes, it definitely was a child screaming. Jon lifted his head and peeled his stuck cheek from the concrete where it had been toasting, flat-grill style. He turned his face in the direction he heard the screaming, and there he was. Thirty yards away, Jon estimated. A little boy, a toddler, out in the sun, lying next to an overturned big wheel, screaming in pain and fear.

By instinct, he felt the overwhelming urge to go get the boy. He knew he couldn’t save him, but he could take him into the pavilion, so at least he wouldn’t die alone. But he needed strength, when he had none left. He could barely hold his head an inch above the searing flat grill. The boy let out another screech, but this time it wasn’t as loud. He was fading. Dying. Just like Jon, but he was a toddler. Where were his parents? Probably dying too, Jon thought, or already dead.

The toddler’s skin was a disturbingly deep, hot pink. Jon could make out blisters and even saw dark splotches that he thought were blood, oozing on the boy’s exposed skin. Jon widened his eyes despite the sun to get a better look. The boy had on blue overalls with a white T-shirt, and had bright, rusty-orange hair.

That did it. Sympathy. Jon couldn’t help but recall the story his mother had told him his whole life. Poor little redheaded Jon, in Florida, hating the heat, getting his first major sunburn, sick and vomiting the entire time. That’s where he found the strength. He couldn’t let this poor redheaded toddler die alone in a blazing hell. Not when he was so close, and still breathing.

His palms hit the concrete, elbows up, in a push-up position. He pushed with all his might and got to his knees. He looked out toward the boy to make sure it wasn’t a mirage. He saw it was real, and the boy had stopped screaming for the moment. He was moving though, and a low whine was faintly heard. Jon put one foot on the floor, put his hands on his knee and pushed. It worked. His head was throbbing, and his heart thumping. He was on his feet and without hesitation started running. When he exited the shade of the pavilion, he instantly felt his skin sting. His arms, face, and neck felt as if he’d jumped into a walk-in crematorium. He was traversing the thirty yards now with more speed than he thought he had. The pain was replaced temporarily by his last reserved supply of adrenaline. When he got to the boy, he slid down onto the grass with some hope it would be cool to the touch. It wasn’t.

He grabbed the boy and lifted him, cradling him like a baby. When he touched the boy on the blistered part of his exposed arm, the skin sloughed off like the skin of a boiled peach. The boy had fallen silent now and was unconscious. Jon was daunted by the thirty-yard dash he would have to repeat if he wanted to get back to the pavilion, only to lie down and die with his new companion. He scanned the area quickly, his blurry eyes taking turns opening so as not to allow either one to be charred by the sun. There seemed to be nothing useful in sight. Homes in the distance. Playground equipment. A ditch. A gazebo. The little preschool down the…. Wait, a ditch! A ditch might lead to a storm drain!

He stood up with the boy in his arms and ran toward the ditch. He could feel his skin blistering. He had stopped sweating, his energy was on empty, his head and chest felt like they were literally exploding. Yet, he galloped with all his might. He got to the ditch and looked right. It went on as far as he could see. SHIT! He looked left. Twenty feet away the ditch ended in a concrete culvert going horizontally into the ground, big enough he could fit.

“AHHHHHH!” He took off again, each agonizing second hurting more and more. Child in arms, he arrived at the culvert opening and slammed his knees to the ground. He shuffled to the mouth of the pipe and screamed out loud at the pain. He whirled the limp, unconscious child around his back, holding him by the arms, maneuvering him into the piggy-back position. Jon plopped onto his stomach and started his Komodo crawl into the concrete pipe.

When he entered, it was instant relief to get out of the sun. The difference between light and shadow was amazing. But it was still hot. This would not save them, so he continued to crawl. As the light from the sun faded to complete dark, Jon could finally feel a sweet coolness in the damp air. After what seemed like a hundred feet but was more like twenty, he hit water.

“WATER!” he yelled. His voice echoed through the pipe. But the water was still warm, and not good enough. Holding the kid on his back while crawling, he continued. Twenty more feet, the water was cooler, twenty more and it was cooler still. Twenty more feet, and twenty more after that, the air and water were getting cooler in unison. He kept crawling, until at last, he was done. His reserve adrenaline was completely depleted. He had no more energy. He was in total dark, and the tornado siren was barely audible. His skin was painful and bloody from a mixture of sunburn and concrete. The water was so cool, and the damp air was brisk. Jon turned over and lay on his back, manipulating the kid around to now rest on his chest. For a few precious moments, Jon savored the cool water, rolling and wiggling like a polar bear being reunited with snow.

“Hey! Wake up! We made it! Ha Ha HAAAAA!!!! WE MADE IT!!!” The kid didn’t stir. In the dark, Jon felt the kid, jostled him. “Hey! I think we’re gonna live, dammit!!” Still nothing.

He listened, felt the boy’s tiny wrist, and nothing. This kid wasn’t unconscious anymore. The kid was dead. “FUUUUUUUCK!!!” Jon yelled. The sound was enormous in the hollow pipe. He lay there panting. A lump like a golf ball formed in his throat and his emotions were in a state of disarray. A thought was slowly forming in his mind. It was distant at first, almost peaceful, comforting. As the silent seconds crept though, the thought became clearer, and to his dismay, it wasn’t peaceful or comforting at all. It was horrifying. The poor, dead, little boy, had saved Jon’s life.

The events that had just transpired flowed through his memory. Seeing the pavilion and deciding to take refuge there. Hearing the sound of the child’s crying. Making the decision to be with the boy while they both died. And finding, perhaps being led to, the culvert. It was almost as if the little redheaded boy had sacrificed his life, for Jon’s. This innocent child’s life, for single, bitter, lonely Jon’s. He began to weep.

He put his arms around the dead child. If I wouldn’t have seen him, I wouldn’t have seen the culvert. I was ready to lie down and die in that pavilion! Jon was utterly devastated, and exhausted. He began cupping each hand into the cold water and tenderly drizzling the relief onto himself and the kid. Fighting unconsciousness, he dimly wondered what could possibly be his next move, or if there even was a next move.

Losing himself in blurry thoughts, Jon’s arms finally gave out and plunked to rest beside him in the cool water. The complete blackness didn’t change when he closed his eyes. He was not safe, but he was alive, with a child corpse resting on his chest. The sound of the tornado siren began fading into a gentle ringing in his ears. He welcomed the siren’s departure, and gladly passed out.

About the Author

Aaron William

Aaron William is a full time Laboratory Technician, and part-time writer of poetry and short fiction. He grew up and resides in Illinois, where he spends his free time writing, reading, and running.