by Nick Bryan
If Neil stood above crouching height, he would surely die.
He was hiding from the heat in the desert, he was cowering from the teacher's hand in the classroom, he was appealing for his bill in a restaurant. Neil was never visible above the sightline. Neil poked a rock that was the same size as a human head and waited.
Neil's last girl had more or less forgotten about him mid-party. He told himself he'd dumped her, but that was only because she didn't bother. Neil told her it was over and she went back to fondling that guy from Accounts. It had only been a few dates, really.
At the very least, Neil might have taken in the beautiful view, but his stance ruined it. There was new plantlife out there, a huge rock formation, he'd seen them earlier whilst dashing down a slope, back still bent double, legs pumping overtime to keep the hunched body upright.
And they'd failed, so he tumbled, slid, kicked up dust as the whole body hit the ground. More so than his injuries, Neil was thinking about the noise, more fuss than he ever made, a scuffle that might attract the attention of predators or insects or god knows what else.
He had a little water, but it wouldn't last forever, so he mustn't stand up in the warmth. The heat was a wall, rather than a person, and he was trying to stay low, slot through the gap at the bottom. Neil did the same at work meetings – don't draw attention to yourself, wait it out, eventually it will wash over you.
His phone had no battery, there hadn't been any signal anyway. Above him, a wedge of burning air waited for him to straighten, so it could suck the moisture out of him through his skin, trickng him into using up precious water. And then he would burn slowly alive, compressed into an even smaller place. A smear of ash.
Neil had slippped away on holiday, but stayed so low and quiet that the tour group had moved on without him. The same often happened on school trips when he was younger, but it had never been so fatal. If they let lions roam free at the zoo, he'd have died long ago.
The head-rock grew a face, nothing like his own, and said “Sorry Neil, didn't see you there”. He'd figured it would say something along those lines - he got that a lot. That was when Neil realised the water had run out.
He'd been assuming there was plenty left because of a rattling noise, but it turned out that was a screw-on top, attached by a thin strip of plastic Neil had forgotten about. He stared at the empty bottle for a moment, not really seeing it, before realising there was only one thing left to do. For the first time ever, Neil stood up, feeling a cloud of heat part around him.
Immediately sweating, Neil was tempted to lick it straight back up from his skin, so he did. Thus refreshed, he started marching towards the rock with renewed vigour, it was the only landmark after all. And on top of there, perhaps he'd find signal for his phone, not to mention a power point to charge it back up. Then he'd call all his friends and arrange his first ever birthday party.
Right after he'd had a short lie-down. The plants on the ground didn't seem so spiky any more, perhaps because the light was so bright.
Nick Bryan has been writing fiction for twenty of his twenty-eight years. Having just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths in London, he is now unleashing his darkly comic modern life stories into the world.
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