's 2017 Horror Write-off:

What I asked

Submitted by Anonymous

My tongue is so dry that my lips bleed when I lick them. Before and behind me the road cuts a straight line across red earth to the empty blue horizon. It's so hot that the rubber of my trainers sticks to bitumen in molten puddles. I feel like my skin is trying to crush me and the air scorches my lungs. It's nearly midday and I'm right where I want to be.

I've left the rising oceans and dying crops and walked to where even microbes struggle to live, here I can be alone with my question, here I can perhaps be answered. Years of careful study as the world boils around me, years of nursing my one curiosity, has led me here. I don't have much time, already I can feel my cells start to peel apart, their bonds evaporating. Moment by moment the lie of my bodies unity threatens to be revealed. Staggering off the road I shrug off my pack and begin to make my final preparations.

I take the last of my water, in a flask whose plastic is already soft to the touch, and unscrew it. I upend it and let the contents pour out onto the hungry earth. Within seconds there is no trace of it. Then button by button, inch by inch I undress. Leaving my clothes in a neat pile and every bit of skin bare. I return to the road and now it's the skin of my soles that's left behind on bitumen.

My feet straddle the median line and my arms shake as I raise them to the sky. Here I make one last gamble, for the piece that completes my puzzle. I look up and stare into the sun.

At first it's merely bright and I just have to resist squinting. But then the pain comes, like needles weighed down by planets. There are no tears, because my body does not have the water to spare. Every part of me, every resource at my disposal is balled up and put into resisting the weight of that pain. I relinquish control of my bladder, my bowels, my breathing, even my heart stops so that it can put its energy behind keeping my gaze on the sun.

My sight narrows and narrows to a single point of brilliance. Among the pain and darkness I wonder whether I'm failing. This might be all for nothing, I'll find myself expiring alone and without answers. For an instant my knees shake. And then the world inverts, my vision clears and from above comes a sense of being watched, a sense of judgment.

Beneath that crushing gaze my skin crackles and snaps and I can smell pork. The orb above me swells from horizon to horizon as my smoke rises to meet it. Its twisting corona seems to flicker down to caress the earth and tickle my flesh. Little tongues of flame begin to dance up and down my arms, my legs, my chest, I feel my scalp begin to peel away. And in their crackling I hear a question.

"What does it want?"

It's repeated in every inch of me consumed, insistent and abstractly curious. I have to be careful now, clear and respectful, there is only so much of me left to give. I take a breath, form the question inside me, then exhale them together.

"I have a question, and beg an answer."

The sky rotates and the full force the Sun's gaze is upon me, the dirt around and under me seeming to shrink and flee from the heat. I know now the the Sun knows all of me and there are no secrets from it, the heat of its eye stripping me down to my subatomic constituents. I can feel it read my cells, divine the patterns my neurons trace. But even so, the flames eating my skin speak, for the sake of appearances.



As the question leaves me the flames grow and grow, all restraint abandoned. A tiny trace of celestial amusement turning me into a blazing pyre. My consumption becomes a microcosm of the future, a fractal model of what will come for everything else on the Earth. The Sun leaves me suspended there in meaningless prediction, seeing if I'll beg. I stay silent and staring at the writhing lens above me. Then a roaring rises in my ears, embracing me and becoming my answer.

"One can never have too many mirrors."