Shelter from the Heat
“Where am I?” Miguel wheezed through his parched throat. Sweat stung his eyes as he baked under an unforgiving sun, and a scalding wind whipped around him. Sand blasted against him, raking across sunburnt skin. Hurts… it hurts to be out here. Where is here? He tried turning his neck, but his muscles would not respond. His body resisted his commands in this nightmare environment. For a moment, he wondered if that defiance was to protect him from this place or to condemn him to remain.
As the pain from the sun, wind, and sand grew, he fought to turn his head to accomplish even that small goal. His muscles tensed, a groan rattled in his chest, but his body refused to comply with his will. Miguel kept applying pressure, his moans growing louder as he fought himself. Am I paralyzed? Is that possible while standing? How is that possible?
The internal battle between his mind and body went on for what felt like hours in these hellish conditions until Miguel felt a snap inside him and a chill ran through him. It was like a dam had broken and sent ice-cold water into every corner of his body. With that victory, he found he could turn his neck, although even that motion took great effort. Still, it allowed him to complete his survey of his surroundings. It was a barren location, a dusty, broken land. As far as he could see in every direction, there was nothing but dry, shattered ground and a yellow, cloudless sky.
Only one thing marred the lifeless expanse: a small, weathered shack worn down by years of exposure to this harsh environment. In defiance of the elements, it stood. While it did not look to be sturdy or safe, Miguel felt compelled to enter. If nothing else, it would get him out of this heat. Stepping on a nail or a flimsy board would be better than being out here.
Each step was a chore, every footfall a hard thud that further cracked the shattered ground. The heat stole his energy with every movement, nibbling away at his stamina, but he pushed onward. His joints ground together as sweat poured down his face. Miguel reached the battered and broken landing and collapsed, the rough wood scraping his hands. The weather-beaten roof offered little shade, and the few remaining boards creaked in the wind. Grabbing the smooth black door handle, he chastised himself for not thinking it would scald him. Enduring the pain, he grasped the handle and shoved.
Despite its faded and battered appearance, the door refused to budge even an inch. “Please,” he whispered. “I need to be inside. I can’t stay out here.” The heat seared his back, and he wondered if he would soon ignite like tinder in a campfire. He continued shoving the door handle and used his free hand to push on the door itself. Nothing was moving. The old door remained in its place. “Just open for me, please. I’d do anything to be out of this heat.” With the last of his strength, Miguel put his shoulder to the door and shoved.
The door swung open with a resounding bang as it collided with the shack’s inner wall. “Success,” Miguel spat as he staggered into the dingy building. There were no lights, or even a light switch that Miguel could see, but the interior was small enough that the light shining in through the door allowed him to take stock of his surroundings. The old building appeared to be the ruins of a small bar. At its maximum, the entire place could never have held more than a dozen people. There were no hallways or side rooms, just a simple rectangular room. All that broke it up were two small round wooden tables with old, warped chairs and the bar itself, a crude, wooden rise with bolted-down high-backed chairs. Despite the rough design, it appeared sturdy, and right now, Miguel needed something stable.
Doesn’t matter what this place is or used to be. As long as it gets me out of this heat.
From inside the door, Miguel glanced back into the heat. He had lived his entire life in warm climates, but never anything like he had experienced out there. This brought questions to mind. Where did I live? Also, where am I now? Struggling to focus, Miguel could not recall much. His memories were there, and he knew who he was, but every thought was hiding under a layer of fog.
Scanning the horizon, Miguel confirmed no other buildings, or even the remains of other buildings, anywhere in sight. Not even the signs of a road. No road? But I was crossing the road to my car. I was picking up… Miguel stopped. The memory had risen to the forefront of his mind and now sank back into the mental fog. What was I doing? How did I get here? His head swam with images: grabbing a plastic bag, making small talk with someone behind a counter, a phone call, and him moving into the road. Then…
Confusion shifted to panic. Why am I here? Where is here? I was at a… at the store, right? But now —
Miguel’s head spun as fatigue washed over him. The heat had taken its toll, making even the simple act of thinking nearly impossible.
He moved out of the doorway, his footfalls coming in rapid succession. There was a feeling of someone or something shoving him farther inside. A twinge of fear crawled up his spine as he took in his new surroundings.
Behind him, the stubborn door creaked closed, casting enormous shadows around the room. Since he had seen nothing alive in the bar, Miguel allowed himself to relax. He was safe. Or at least safer than he had been outside. A part of him fought against moving any farther inside—that rebellious spark wanting to remain a few steps past the door so he could easily flee back into the light—but his aching legs cried out for relief, and Miguel pushed his fear aside as he shambled toward the bar.
Every step was a struggle, and he threw himself forward at a hobble. Now that I am out of the heat, I can rest a minute. Maybe then I can… I can think. Call… Call who? The wheels of his mind ground to a halt. For the life of him, he could recall nothing. The same questions echoed in his mind.
Miguel looked at his right hand, trying to flex his fingers, which reacted as if they were holding some unseen object. Didn’t I have a bag? When he peered back at the door, a single beam of light still slipped through. I could go back out and find my bag. It might help me get some answers.
Before he could turn, however, he collided with a barstool. Miguel winced at the abrupt stop, rubbing his ribs. That was closer than I thought. Well, sit first. Then I’ll go bag-hunting. Aches and pains ran up and down his limbs, and he fought just to sit upon that chair. Miguel stabilized himself against its back, wincing as the touch of the chair stung his sunburnt skin. Even through his shirt, he felt the coarse wood. Despite it all, he let out a final, exhausted sigh of comfort. As much pain as this ordeal had caused him, sitting in the cool darkness was far better than standing in the heat. “Perhaps things are looking up. I mean, I’m still alive. That’s a start, right?” He tried to laugh, to find some reassurance in his own words, but he could only cough.
Is that really your best advice, Miguel?
The thought popped into his mind like someone else was speaking in his thoughts. “Hello,” he wheezed into the darkness. No response came, and he smiled to himself. “Guess it was the bar talking to me. Either that or I’ve gone crazy.” He inspected the room, confirming he was alone. The door gave off a final click as it closed. With the sun’s heat cut off by the shack’s heavy wooden door, the room’s temperature dropped. The heat dissipated, consumed by the room’s chill, and numbness moved through his body, dulling the aches and pains. Exhausted, he swayed in his seat.
All he wanted was to rest, to let go, to stop. Miguel laid his head on the coarse bar, enjoying its steady structure. With a lengthy sigh, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift away.