The temperature had been rising for days but the heat was already unbearable. Just walking through the house would cause him to break out in a sweat.
The air felt heavy as he inhaled.
His chest tightened as heat poured into his lungs.
It smothered him as if the room were made of glass; trapping him in an airless box causing his slow but inevitable demise. The air was seeping away and the heat crept further into his bones with each breath. He stepped outside hoping for a breeze. There was a rustling sound amongst the trees in the surrounding forest but no breeze to be found. The grass beneath his feet was wilted and brown. He raised his eyes to the sky and witnessed the fiery red horizon that stretched out all around him. It was as if the world was on fire, dying a slow death, and he was at the center of it all. He lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply feeling the smoke fill his lungs. He held it in just to feel the burning inside and smiled. He had been dying for some time now. Smoking was his new way of taunting the universe. Take me now, he dared with an ugly, crooked, yellow toothed smile. He didn’t really want to die, he didn’t even want to tempt fate all that much. He couldn’t outright state his will to live either. He languished in his own self made prison as the world slowly died around him; with him. He could smell burning flesh now dripping off the bone. Surely a side affect of the radiation. Out of the corner of his eye the man saw the beginning of flames upon the hill above the house. Not surprising given the heat. Forest fires ran rampant across the country in the summer. He pushed his glasses back up his wet nose and wiped the perspiration from his face with a greasy hand, setting out to find the source of the fire. He walked slowly through the yard feeling the grass crunch beneath his feet. Grass doesn’t crunch, he thought to himself. Another side effect of dying I suppose. Soon he will be crunched up in an incinerator and disintegrate to ash as the grass was now crumbling into the earth beneath it. There were rocks up ahead, and he was hoping for cool relief, disappointed when his gnarled feet met the black rock that protruded from it’s home under the grass. The rocks were scalding, but still he moved quickly forward to escape the pain. He didn’t move fast enough. Back in the refuge of the grass he could feel his newly blistered feet being scratched with every step. He rested a moment with his hands on his knees and his head down, trying to catch his breath. The oxygen tank he left just inside the back door taunted him. No need to tempt fate and bring it out for a smoke, he had thought. He liked to tempt fate, but only a small amount. He looked to the fire ahead. The flames were still burning low, and curiosity took him over once more. As his lifted his hands from his thighs he could see them shaking.
At the end of the yard there was a small rock face and a set of rickety old stairs led the way up to the top. He had never climbed the stairs before. The man is not a curious one. He was too taken with his self loathing ways to be interested in much beyond his own suffering. Now the stairs taunted him. A challenge. I’m not dead yet, he thought, trudging up to the bottom of the stairs. He put one foot on the jagged wood and a hand on the rail. The nails pulled out of the wood and the entire apparatus made a creaking sound. He hauled himself onto the first step pulling the wooden railing towards him. It held. He pulled again and it wavered. The man knelt on the third step and pulled on the fourth with all his might moving upward at a crawl. The oxygen tank and heat of the day forgotten he pulled and pulled until he reached the eighth step. He could feel his heart beating, trying to tear its way out of his chest. He tasted the metallic after taste of treatment, and this struck him as odd. The nausea was an expected side effect of his exertion, but the metallic taste should have dissipated some time ago.
At the top of the stairs he tried to rise. The air became so thick that he could barely cut through it to stand. He could no longer smell the smoke, but his nostrils are assaulted with the scent of burning flesh once more. He pushed through the heat one last time to stand and see what had brought him here. Upon first glance he fell to his knees and began to pray for the first time in his miserable life. He prayed and prayed until his knees shook and his heart hurt and finally he opened his eyes once more to the shocking scene that lay before him. Curled up inside the flames he could see himself. Naked and burning, his own corpse was being devoured before his eyes. It was with tears in his eyes that he closed them one last time.
A young woman knocks on a door and cautiously enters, bracing herself against an old man’s anger only to find him curiously silent. The monitors are slowly beeping out the rhythm of what is left of him. She moves to the bedside, watching. The man does not wake. She moves closer, knowing she will pay for this if he wakes. She moves so close that she can smell the terrible odor coming from his mouth and see his rotting yellow teeth. She did not know cancer had a smell until he had taken a turn for the worst and she moved the family in so to care for him. The smell filled the room. It was always an effort not to gag when opening the door.
The dogs have been avoiding the room for weeks. They could smell death slowly creeping its way into their home. His mouth is set in a grisly smile and his eyes are sunken in their sockets. She sees a single tear run down his face and slowly raises a shaking hand to wipe it away when she hears a crash at the front door. The children are home. She hurries out of his room closing the door behind her so not to disturb him. She greets her children and after an afternoon snack sends them out back to play.
As the back-door smashes against the frame the children’s laughter is drowned out by the alarm coming from the old man’s room. She runs in to see that all the monitors have dropped their steady tune of beeps to a long, low drone. She exhales deeply and picks up the phone to call her husband. As she tells him the news she paces the house, not wanting to be alone with the body of the man who had just been there. Her husband rushes home and together they decided how best to tell the children.
They walk outside to see them all up at the top of the yard dancing in the wildflowers. Even the youngest of only three years has toddled his way up the old stairs and is spinning, arms outstretched, through garden; the flowers swaying towards her in the breeze.
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