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Heatwave

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By: Domus Vocis


Karen awoke from her sleep. She shifted her body to find an empty spot. Duncan was gone, probably left early to get more supplies. Even with the intense heat from outside, Karen felt cold without her older brother's arms around her. Groaning, Karen pushed her hands into the wet mattress and wiped the sweat from her face. She stood up and felt her toes against the rough carpet of the trailer. Each day has been getting worse, every week was another week of baking sunlight. And the eccentric Army soldiers in charge of the refugee colony weren't making things brighter.


Her throat was dry, the tongue in her mouth was concrete. Spotting a water bottle on the small table, she used all the strength she had to not chug it all down. Karen knew that she had only several bottles left along with a week's worth of food, and the National Guard hasn't been exactly charitable lately. She had to save up on supplies, or die in the heat.


“Attention all citizens, attention all citizens,” the loudspeaker's voice echoed through the thin walls. “Everyone is being advised to stay indoors until the temperature drops lower. Anyone who runs out of water, please contact the nearest soldier and pay ten ration tickets for a gallon of purified water. I repeat-”


She drowned out the voice and shook her head. The loudspeaker was annoying, and it used to be five ration tickets instead of ten. Right now, she and Duncan had twenty-five tickets, but today was payment day. Just a few days ago, as she was getting away from the heat outside, she saw a few soldiers beating up a man for stealing a loaf of bread from the supply building.


For breakfast, Karen took out applesauce from the small refrigerator. The house wasn't much, being a one bedroom house with a small kitchen. Dusty pictures of the past owners hung on the walls, memories forgotten long ago. The windows were closed shut, have been since the heatwaves got worse.


Each scoop of the applesauce was nice, despite it being a few months old. She took a chair and sat down. As she ate the food, Karen thought of how Duncan was doing. He said that he'd be back with rations and probably some water from the supply building. The refugee colony has been low on supplies, especially water, and rumor has it that more colonies have been falling to marauders.


The movement of the trailer made Karen jump out of her seat. She grabbed a knife, yet stopped at the sight of a young boy two feet in front of her. The boy removed his hat, thick glasses, and revealed his sweaty face. Like her's, it was palish olive, his hazel eyes reflecting off of Karen's green, and his black hair was opposite to her blonde.


“Hey Duncan,” Karen put the knife down and ate the last of her applesauce. “How did it go?”


“Supplies don't have any water,” he said grimly. “However, I did get this.” Duncan pulled out something, a box from his backpack. He opened it, and a sweet smell engulfed Karen's nose. “Ta-da!”


“Is-is that a piece of cake?” her eyes widened at the sight of something she hasn't had in years.


“Yep,” he said.


“How did you get it?”


“Cost me only fourteen ration tickets,” he replied. “Some scavenger found it in a freezer in some ice cream shop downtown. So I figured this would be a good birthday present for ya.”


Karen put her hands to her sides. “My birthday is next month,” she said.


“Exactly,” he set it on the table. “I didn't give you anything, so I thought I'd give you an early birthday.” He took out two forks from an open drawer and gave one to Karen. “Better eat it up before it melts.”


Karen shrugged, picking up the fork before tasting the slice of cake. Just as a piece touched her lips, a jolting sensation went through her taste buds. It was sweet, almost like melted ice cream. It brought back memories of Karen's childhood, back to before the heatwaves began to cook their small town.


Being in Nevada, it was always hot, even in winter. However, as coastal cities were washed away, Karen's family stayed inland. It started with food shortages, which led to both of their parents sending them to the closest refugee colony near them. They were in the Red Cross, and were the people bringing other people into the colonies. However, everyone didn't expect to go through relentless heatwaves each day.


The slice of cake was left to a few crumbs, making Karen wish there was still another slice. “What do you want to do?” she asked. “You want to watch a movie or something?”


“Power is out again,” Duncan explained.


“I guess they're still rerouting the electricity to the hospital tent?”


“Correct,” he replied. “Good news is that the power may be going like until tonight, though there's no guarantee.”


Karen picked up their plates and washed them before resting on the bed. For several minutes, they did their own things in the small trailer, waiting for their job duties. While Duncan read a book of some kind, Karen watched the clock tick by like a timer to her next torture. According to the weekly roster, she had construction duty. Nothing like working in the baking sun to build extra housings for refugees.


“Citizens on construction duty are to report to their stations at this time,” the loudspeaker announced. “I repeat, citizens on construction duty are to report in five minutes to their stations.”


“Time for me to go,” Karen sat up and grabbed one of the white coats.


“Construction duty?”


“Yep,” she put on the white coat and grabbed a water bottle, placing it safely in her pocket. The last thing she needed was some guy trying to take it. “You?”


“Got outside fence patrol duty,” he said.


Karen raised an eyebrow, suddenly feeling concerned for him. “Aren't you too young for that?”


He laughed. “I'm eighteen, which means it's time to do my part,” Duncan reminded her. “Luckily, you've got about five more years.”


Karen refused to stop there. “Be careful,” she warned him.


“What do you mean?”


“That's gotten people either missing or dead,”


Duncan nonchalantly laughed. “Don't worry,” he mused. “I'll be alright.”


“I'm serious, Duncan,” Karen said. She stopped at the door and looked at him. “Outside patrol duty has killed a lot of people. I don't want you to get killed.”


“I said that I'll be alright,” he repeated. “With a big shotgun in one hand and a radio in the other, it'll be nothing. Not to mention free water bottles.”


“Duncan-”


“Just go to your little job,” he put his head further into the book. “It's nearly been five minutes, Karen.”


Karen wanted to argue, but there was her duty for the day. Reluctantly, she breathed in, and out before letting the sunlight in. The heat from the sun was intense, causing whatever cool air in Karen's lungs to evaporate. For a second, she was blinded, managing to regain her senses. She turned to the left and saw the dozens and dozens of identical white trailers lined up along the dead grass. Right away, Karen began walking to the construction zone, which was on the other side of the refugee colony.


Even though she's lived here for years, there were some parts of the whole refugee camp that were still undiscovered. It was big, almost a couple mile radius, with the supply building and a military warehouse in the center along with a small military airport. And lastly, the edge was walled off by a perimeter fence, a wall intimidating both inside and out.


Outside the wall was a mystery, rumors being the latest of news. As already known, the Gulf and Atlantic states were underwater, and millions of people were dying. The plague has nearly died out on the West Coast, and marauders have taken control of a few refugee colonies nearby. Storms have been ravaging all the coasts, and as already known, heatwaves were cooking inland.


Africa's said to be burned to a crisp, and China along with half of South America drowned underwater. Other than that, the state of the world has been unknown.


Karen passed other people, carrying their own food from the supply building's ration line or heading to their jobs. She saw others limping through the heat as fast as possible, their faces white as sand. There was one small canopy outside, with people crowding underneath it for dear life. Others were underneath dead trees, trying to find the closest shade. Karen wondered how long it would take for this heatwave to end, it having lasted for several weeks.


At last, Karen made it to the construction zone, the shade of a tent welcoming. It was next to the skeleton of a building, a shed of tools not far by. On the far end of the canopy was Lieutenant Jensen, looking as dehydrated as everyone was.


Everyone stopped mumbling to each other and started staring at the lieutenant. “Time to get started,” the man's deep voice still scared Karen. “I want everyone on the right side to start with digging while the rest are gonna haul beams.”


Karen sweltered underneath the hot ball in the sky, sweat dripping down here like ice in the summer. She was in the deep pit that would end up as the refugee colony's newest shelter. The sand beneath her feet was hot as lava, blistering her feet and making Karen grit her teeth.


Besides the heavy shoveling and hot sun, Karen felt fine. She kind of liked the work, having gained a few muscles all the while. She chuckled as she remembered one time where she beat Duncan in an arm wrestling match. He was always boasting how he was strongest, so Karen tried her luck and won. Ever since, he's stopped bragging about being the strongest in the family.


A bell rang, the noon bell. Breathing a sigh of relief, Karen climbed out of the pit and dropped the shovel on the pile. She ran to the canopy and was overcome with an intense euphoria. With shade, the bread, fruit, and water on her tray was nothing. Nevertheless, lunch went well for a while.


“Hey, beautiful,” a familiar voice made her turn around. Standing in front of her was a face that made her day more good.


“Wilson,” she sat down next to him, but not before giving him a kiss on the cheek. “I thought you had latrine duty this week.”


“Ugh, don't remind me,” he said. “I just wanted to spend my lunch with you. Do I smell at all?”


“Very,”


Karen has had latrine duty, and she sometimes wondered if people constantly missed the seat on purpose. These days, she still can't get the smell out of her nose.


She and Wilson have been together for about a few months, hanging out a bit and actually having a connection. He had both parents in the Army too, and lived with a baby brother and sister. So like her, Wilson knew what it was like to be alone.


“Attention citizens, please drink plenty of water and report any suspicious activities of theft or burglary. Those caught will be tried and-”


“God, I hate that woman,”


Karen was surprised to hear that from Wilson, and a few others. There were a couple soldiers with guns nearby, and they weren't very fond of trashing on those in charge. Yet they didn't hear them, and everyone kept eating their rations and treasuring the water either given or brought with.


As Wilson poured water down his back, Karen asked him, “So how has your family been?”


Her boyfriend washed the dirt from his face. “Pretty good,” he said. “Sally is being looked after by my neighbor and Hank is doing great in school. Pretty soon, he'll help with the work here.” He paused. “How is your older bro doing?”


Karen abruptly stopped eating, her head hung down low. She didn't want to be reminded of Duncan being on patrol duty.


“Something wrong?”


She refocused herself. “Uh.....he's on patrol duty,” Karen tried to say nothing more. “.........outside of the perimeter fence.”



Wilson's breath drew short, a mix of a choke and a gasp bubbled from his throat. “God help him,” he patted Karen's shoulder. “I lost a couple of friends in patrol duty last month, during the bandit attack. Mike was so-”


“You're not helping!” she snapped at him. Karen's face flushed with embarrassment, her eyes glowing with regret. In the silence, she could feel a dozen sets of eyes on her, making her feel small in the large canopy. “I'm sorry.”


Wilson looked stunned, shaking himself away from her outburst. “I'm sorry too,” he managed to reply. “It's just that......I didn't know you were this worried.” He leaned in and hugged Karen. “Listen, I have a friend on patrol duty, and I'm confident he and your brother will be alright.”


“You sure?”


He kissed her on the cheek. “I have to return to latrine duty in a few minutes,” Wilson placed the empty tray into the bin before putting on sunglasses. “I'm sure Duncan will be with you tonight.”


“I'll see you later during free time?”


“Sure,” Karen said. Free time was from 6:00 to 9:00, when curfew started and Duncan's patrol duty was over. “See ya later, Wilson.”


“Love you,” he said. Wilson walked out of the canopy's open doors, golden light engulfing his entire body.


Not long, Karen got to work again, the activities further drenching her shirt with salty sweat. The tranquility of the digging routine was bad, water and her imagination being Karen's only escape. There were familiar faces around her, people that have lived here since birth, and even old friends.


There was George, a middle-aged man that happened to be friends with her parents. He was a couple trailers down and had a pregnant wife. Another old one was Ernesto, a God-fearing man that lost a leg from a marauder several years ago. And lastly, there was Maria.


She has been best friends with Karen since the day Maria was found outside the perimeter fence. They've hung out together, talked about the likes and dislikes of the colony, and also on the past. Karen didn't know much about her, but she knew Maria was very humble, even giving her the last bottle of water she had during work.


“I couldn't, Maria,” Karen tried to give the bottle back to her.


“Take it,” she whispered. “Before someone sees it.”


Too late.


Karen felt forceful hands push her down and the water bottle gone. Other people were out of control, and she even saw someone hit a face with a shovel. She had no idea people were desperate enough to get half a bottle of water. This prompted her to back away from the fight, when the soldiers shot bullets into the sir and arrested those who threw the punches.


It wasn't even a minute before everyone got back to work. Maria got quiet, and dug on the other side of the pit, away from Karen. As much as it made her feel more guilty, she kind of liked it better.


As Karen began to fall into the repetition of work, she heard a noise from above. It was the echo of an engine, catching the attention of everyone else. Karen looked up to see a couple of helicopters fly toward the airport, carrying new survivors. This meant the rations would be low again.


Later, it was 3:00. Work was over, and it was payment time. The line for earning the day's ration tickets was long, going nearly circling the entire colony's edge. Luckily, it wasn't a very long wait, probably because of the tickets being cut down.


“Sorry about what happened today,” Maria was behind her.


Karen shrugged. “That's alright,” she replied. “I'm just worried about someone.”


Before Maria could ask, Karen noticed shouting up front. It was underneath a small canopy, where a woman was angrily complaining to the man behind the booth. It wasn't long before the woman was pulled away though.


After half a minute of waiting, Karen got about twelve ration tickets, and stepped out of the way. She was satisfied, believing that if she stayed under the sun's weight any longer, she'd collapse.


Maria was next, and of course complained. “Twelve ration tickets?” she asked. “What happened to fifteen?”


“Next!”


Karen slapped her head, knowing that Maria was always stubborn on getting what she wanted. “What happened to-”


Suddenly, a blaring noise rippled everywhere. Bullet shots, loud ones, were nearby. Shouts were ringing around the place like flies, the sunlight barely allowing Karen look beyond the fence.


“Attention all citizens,” the loudspeaker hastily came back online. “Please return to your designated trailers immediately! This is for your protection!”


Karen didn't have to be told twice. Shoving the ration tickets into her sweaty pocket, she bolted for her trailer, but not before catching what was happening over the wall. Bandits and marauders were attacking the compound, and the soldiers were barely keeping the gate closed. Everyone inside the wall was scattering away to their homes, almost like bees lost from their hive.


More gunshots were heard, and shouts of infection forced Karen to keep running. On top of a bandit attack, one of them had to be infected with the plague. This was bad, very ,very bad. Even with the sun beating down on her, Karen pushed herself to not stop. Each step was a death sentence.


She tripped, hitting the cracked ground and tickling her face with dead grass. Her face was numb and dirt mixed with sweat, and she heard more people screaming and the loudspeaker telling everyone to go home. Karen had a man pick her up, it being George.


“Thanks,”


“Go! Now!”


Karen kept going, eventually spotting her trailer up ahead. She saw military trucks pass the row ahead, shooting at something behind the fence. She didn't wait to head inside, thirst being the least of her troubles. Even inside, Karen didn't feel safe at all, even with the door locked up tight.


Explosions and gunshots were in the distance, threatening to shake Karen out of the thin metal prison. She backed up to the wall and onto the small bed, resting her aching head on the fabric. Karen felt the eardrums in her head rip apart from the noise, the shouts that pooled tears in her eyes.


Her tears weren't because of her fear of the colony being taken over, but because of Duncan. He was on outside patrol duty, which has gotten many people killed. Karen didn't even want to start thinking about it, only listen to the outside.


It was endless, going on like a long symphony of pain. Karen wondered why the world couldn't live in harmony instead of separation. These years of pain she and Duncan experience grow too unbearable, making her think of the old days.


She was in an old house, somewhere in a suburb, their old home. Karen could barely remember what it was like, yet she could remember how Duncan was always the one to get in trouble.


She laughed at the memory of him once painting the walls, even at age ten. That was just to get their parents mad, even though we left the next day when storms were coming in. Karen saw it as both funny and ironic, and she never stopped chuckling at it.


Hours went by, and the battle eventually ended near ten.


Minutes after the last shot was fired, the loudspeaker woman came online. “Attention,” a different voice came on, sounding grim. “This is Lieutenant Taylor Jensen speaking. Despite today's recent attack, we have been able to repel the marauders and bandits away.” He paused. “Unfortunately, we have lost about five great men today. I give my condolences to their families and friends, and pray for them.”


Karen didn't know what to think, didn't know how to feel. Duncan was alive, he had to be. Her brother was always a fighter, even protecting her from the boys in the colony. Even once, he punched one guy for looking slyly at her. The look was intentional for her, and she hoped for once he'd be able to do it once again.


That was until the vibration of a knock to the door made her get up. It was Duncan, alive and well. They'd laugh about the whole event and get some sleep. And after this, he'd never go on patrol duty again. Smiling with hope, she quickly opened the door.


It was a man in his thirties, wearing a uniform covered in sand. He carried a big clipboard and fidgeted with a pencil in his right hand. “Are you Karen De Angelo?” he asked. Karen nodded, and the man smiled. “I'm here to check up on you and your brother and see how you're doing.”


“Uh.......my brother isn't here right now,” she replied slowly. “He's.......on duty.”


The man blinked twice. “Then good luck,” he left, and Karen closed the door.


Lying on her bed, Karen prayed to God for Duncan to be alive, for her to hug him again, tell her stories from the past, kiss her forehead. As the night dragged on, no one came to greet her, or see her safety.


All of a sudden, the electricity came on, and Karen felt cool air come in. Still, this didn't calm the storm filling inside her, the intensity of worry she felt.


Hours dragged by, and still no Duncan.


By midnight, Karen was convinced Duncan was dead, that he lied in ashes among his fellow guardsmen. She began to cry, the water in her eyes dried up faster than the cool air came.


Why Duncan? Why'd you have to go?!?


In the void of silence, her eyes gave way, and sleep took over. In her dreams, Karen stood in a city barren of life, only a hot sun overhead like an eye. Bones littered the roads, plants and animals lie dead everywhere.


She began to run, hide in the city. Marauders came out of no where and dragged her toward a warehouse, the heads of people she knew, including Duncan's, hung from ropes to the roof.


No!


Her eyes awoke, sweat covered her entire face. Karen tried to move, but something stopped her. Over her draped body, she saw a fully clothed young man holding her close to him, someone with hazel eyes and five years older.


Karen just smiled. "I knew you'd come back."



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