Here’s a little short story to warm up your winter:
He gave a low groan. It echoed loudly around his head.
He opened his mouth; it was dry and tacky. It felt as though simply moving it might cause it to crumble like old underlay. He slapped his tongue around, hoping to generate some moisture, but the feeling of it rasping around made him feel even worse.
It was so hot. Why was it so damned hot? Where the hell was he?
He gave another groan and opened his eyes. It was dark, but not completely black. The night—he assumed it was night—had a reddish hue. Or was he looking through blood shot eyes? The banging pain in his head making him think he might have somehow hurt himself.
He blinked, trying to find something to focus on, but there was nothing.
Or was there?
Slowly his eyes settled on a pinprick of light. A single star? Or was it the light at the end of the tunnel?
And why was it so impossibly hot? And stuffy. Like there wasn’t enough air.
He groaned again and heard the sound echo, as though unable to escape his loci.
Maybe he was still asleep and dreaming of some surreal alter-universe?
He cleared his throat and went to raise his hand, hoping to wipe the grittiness away from his eyes; and maybe to cast a soothing stroke to his head, which was pounding with every beat of his heart. Only his hand remained at his side. Or at least that was where he thought it was. He tried again, putting more effort into lifting his arm, which stubbornly refused to yield. His legs and body also appeared paralysed.
A stroke? Brain tumour? What the hell caused paralysis overnight?
A cold dread stole through him, doing little to compensate for the crippling heat.
A bead of sweat burst from his brow and ran into his eyes, the salt stinging as it hit. He moved his head side to side, the only movement he could make.
Where were the doctors?
If he was in hospital surely he should be able to hear something—some reassuring beeping or binging noise tapping out the rhythm of his heart? He listened. Apart from the echoey sound of his own breath, coursing in and out like Darth Vader, there was nothing.
What the hell has happened?
He cast his mind back. What was the last thing he could remember?
Drinking. Someone thrusting a couple of glasses in his hand. A jagerbomb. Just how many had he had?
And there was the lap dancer. Only she did a little more than dance.
Mustn’t let Nancy hear about that. She’d never forgive him. It would be over. Wedding dress or no wedding dress. He groaned again.
If he was ill, lying in some hospital somewhere, did Nancy know?
Was this his penance for letting things go too far? Was that it?
The sweat was coursing down his face. Or was it tears he could taste, running into his open mouth, that was struggling to fulfil the demand for air from his lungs.
He could feel his chest tighten as the panic began to grip.
He was sorry. He was so sorry. He’d do anything to turn back the clock, stop it from happening. Make it all okay again. It wasn’t like it was his fault. He hadn’t organised it. That was Steve and the lads. It was only supposed to be a laugh.
He wasn’t laughing now. His stifled sobs echoed around his head.
But where the hell was he? What had happened?
That was last night, yet he could remember waking. With an almighty hangover. The cheap hotel room, reeking of sweat, stale beer and phaal-fuelled farts. He’d made it down to breakfast, where the lads had ribbed him mercilessly. He even managed to polish off a fry-up—the complete works—and hadn’t been sick. Unlike Steve, who had chucked up the second they got back to the room. In fact, Steve had been worse than him. The pussy. They were supposed to have gone go-karting, but he’d cried off. And one by one, they’d all admitted maybe it wasn’t a good idea to hurl themselves around a track with more turns than your average intestine; not if you wanted the contents of your stomach to actually make it as far as your intestines, it wasn’t.
They needed something more sedate, they’d agreed. The amusement arcade had seemed a good idea, until they got there and his head threatened to explode with all the flashing lights and buzzers and bells that were guaranteed to give you tinnitus. They’d kept walking. Past the fun park, with the dodgems and dodgy rides that would have rattled the fillings from your teeth. Even past the pub; thinking perhaps the hair of the dog might be more bite than bark, given how rough they all felt.
On they walked, to the beach.
That was it. They’d crashed on the beach. Where they’d succumbed to the sun…
And fallen asleep. With a strange sense of relief, he realised he must have fallen asleep.
It was a bad dream after all.
‘Wake up!’ he shouted.
The sound of his own voice bounced back and hit him square between the eyes.
His opened eyes. The view was still barren. Empty. Still bathed in a reddish glow and still hotter than hell. He looked into the tiny pinprick of light. It seemed even brighter now.
‘No!’ he screamed.
Suddenly, with an atomic blast of brilliance, the world was blisteringly bright.
He heard a roaring noise as shapes emerged from the glare. As his vision cleared, the roaring quietened down to a rumbling. A sniggering, guffawing sound. He looked up at the faces of his five friends. Pointing and jeering down at him. He looked down at his entombed body, encased in a mound of sand moulded into the shape of a naked woman. A child’s pink bucket lay overturned nearby.
‘I could have died, you pricks!’ he yelled.
‘Don’t be such a drama queen. This is nowhere near as bad as what you did to Daz at his stag do. And besides, we put an air hole in the bucket,’ his mate Steve said, scooping away sand.
‘Bloody hell, it was hot though,’ he said, dusting himself down. ‘Don’t know about you boys, but I could murder a beer.’
© Susan Handley Feb 2019