The world is burning. I can smell it. The smell of scorched earth and burnt flesh. The smell sits at the back of my throat, I can taste it. I can feel it too. The heat, tickling my skin. It is not scorching, I am not blistering, but it still burns. A constant, draining heat that claims the moisture from my body.
I open my eyes. How long had they been closed? I don't remember. Before me is a body, filthy. Scrawny shoulders, a scrawny neck, two stick like scrawny arms. The body is a he and he is walking. So am I. Walking on torn, blistered feet. No pain? Strange. There are shackles. Shackles on my ankles. And a chain, a chain leading to the shackled ankles of the man in front. His neck is shackled too, by a ring of iron far to big for his small neck. The chain from that shackle leads to my neck. Why am I shackled?
I look up, scan my surroundings. Nothing. Nothing but a red waste. The ground is hard, like granite. We walk on a path, one made by the treading of many feet. Blood stains the path, but it is not mine. Despite the rips and tears in my feet, there is no blood. I walk on.
I study the man in front. He is naked. Filth runs down the back of his legs and it smells. I smell burning shit now too.
There is a man in front of him. I hadn't noticed him before. He is naked and shackled also. They both have no hair. I reach up, running a dry, cracked hand over my bald scalp. I feel I should have hair, in fact, I'm sure of it. We walk on.
I look up to the sky. It is red also. A paler reflection of the land I walk. How long have I been walking? It is a long time. I don't know how I know, I just know. We all have. Me, the man in front, the one in front of him, an endless queue of people, naked and shackled. Walking. Why?
The ground begins to tremble. Only a slight tremor. A series of beats. I look down. The thin layer of red dust coating the red, rock floor is dancing up and down. I look around me, curious what could be causing the disturbance. Nobody else seems to notice. I hear a noise. A guttural sound, deep and loud. It sounds like a large animal. Then a shadow rises over me. Huge, blocking out the light. Then I see it.
A beast, unlike anything I have seen before. Dark brown fur, almost black. Small thick legs, hoofed feet. Massive arms, thick and long, ending in fists the size of a man's head. It is as wide as four men abreast and at least twelve feet tall. The head is the size of a small boulder, a large snot for the nose with two small, red eyes that lack any real intelligence. No ears that I can see but two large, curved horns on either side of the great beast's head.
It is watching us, all of us. It carries a long whip in its huge hand, but the dust on it shows it hasn't been used in a while. It hasn't needed to be used.
Fear grips me. My chest tightens, my knees begin to shake and bile rises in my throat. I haven't eaten in a long time, or that would of came up too. The beast stops, stares at me. Then I realise. Nobody seems frightened. Nobody even seems to have noticed. They just walk. I am the only one who is not facing forward and the beast doesn't like that.
I face forward, eyes focused on the back of the man's head in front. The beast moves on.
I try to breathe out a sigh of relief, but I have no mouth. Panic takes me. I should have a mouth! I know I should. My hand shoots up, fingers searching for an opening. I feel lips. I do have a mouth, but it is sealed shut. It has been closed so long, unused and un-watered. I study the man behind me. His lips are the same.
He keeps his eyes down, never looking anywhere else than the path he walks on. He blinks, but very rarely. He doesn't seem alive at all. Was I like this too? How long was I like him for? Who am I?
The question strikes me in the chest. I don't know my own name. I don't know anything. No memory, nothing. My entire existence spans from the moment I opened my eyes to see the waste up until now. A poor existence.
But I am alive.I look again at the person behind me. He is not alive, not right now. He does not exist at all. He is in the pointless space between life and death, the point where neither means anything. They are dead, all of them. I am alive.
I am shackled. I am thirsty. I am naked and burnt, frightened and wounded. I walk forever to nowhere. I was once dead, in a world that is dead. But I am alive.
I reach up, forcing a finger between my lips. The skin splits, but there is little blood. My jaw aids me, and I manage to pry open my mouth. I feel pain. Suddenly everything hurts. As if this one act of rebellion against the norm has awoken every nerve in my body in revolt. My feet burn with pain and my ankle gives out. I almost fall, but force myself to stand. I continue to walk. My jaw continues to flex up and down, side to side, enjoying its new freedom.
I try to talk, but my tongue does not comply. It just wags, like a dead weight against the bottom of my mouth. I try again and again. Nothing. No matter. I may have a tongue that does not work, but I have a tongue. I turn to the man behind me, give him a broken, rotten toothed grin. He does not notice.For he is dead, and I am alive.
An endless chain of people, stretching as far as the eye can see continues to walk over a dead, endless, red waste. Somewhere amongst them a single man wakes up and, after some time, croaks 'I am alive.'