The heat had become unbearable that summer.
“Make it stop, daddy,” Liddy’s son, Torin, said, as they walked home from school. The sun glared down with a vengeance, its rays like vicious lapping tongues. It seemed to Liddy that the sun was angry at the earth.
“I can’t make it stop,” said Liddy. “But we’ll be home shortly. Mom will have the freezing air on.” People had to get special solar powered freezing air units to maintain livable temperatures in their homes. The sun rained down relentlessly, as if hurriedly punishing the earth.
Holding Torin’s hand, Liddy felt the heat blasting his face, too.
“Please, daddy,” said Torin.
The shine beat down on his eyes, even with the sun goggles on. Without the goggles you couldn’t open your eyes, or your eyes teared and became blood shot.
When they got home, Torin cried, the temperature so powerful it made his skin break out in red blotches.
“Rinse your eyes with cool water,” his father said. Torin stopped crying once the cool water hit his face.
As they prepared for dinner, Liddy lifted the canvas shade covering the window. Outside the sky looked hazy and dense. The sun’s rays rushed in like a swarm of bees, even though he just peeked out the window.
“I tell you not to do that all of the time, Liddy,” said his wife, Kate, sighing. Kate had thin black hair. Her face, normally pale, was reddened from the sun. Her cobalt blue eyes were made bluer by the pronounced red skin color.
“Sorry, I know, I just feel so trapped.”
Kate looked over at Torin who was playing a video game, to make sure he wasn’t listening.
“We all feel trapped,” she whispered. “The world keeps getting hotter and smaller. Before you know it, we’re not going to be able to go out.” Her face looked scared now. “And then what?”
Liddy knew she was right. He had a hard time shaking old habits. He grew up biking, and hiking in the hills of Marin, California. He had moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to take a teaching position. It was hotter everywhere, but it was hottest in Arizona. Turning the news on would bring some terrible update almost weekly now: flooding, hurricanes, tornados. Liddy taught English Literature. He wasn’t sure if teaching English was completely useless, or the most important thing he could do.
“We’re going to keep doing what we need to do, honey.”
“I’m sorry,” said Kate. “Come here.”
They held each other closely. Some people, especially those that got lobster red, were more likely to get the new form of fierce cancer that was rapidly spreading. This new cancer, nicknamed The Solar Curse, was taking thousands of lives more every year. It literally burned through people, making their veins like rivers of fire. Their skin dried up, their skin and eyes turned beet red, all in a matter of months. Some died of dehydration; their mouths parched, as if choking on ash.
After dinner, they turned on the cooling lights.
Liddy helped Torin with his homework as Kate prepared the house for the evening cooldown, the coolant system now releasing recycled water used that day. The water froze the ground and the walls, generating fresh air and lowering the house temperature. Kate had been a geologist, and was now a consultant to SunVeil, a company that developed innovative temperature coolant systems.
“Are we going away this summer,” asked Torin, as he closed his books, now finished with homework. “Last year we went to Iceland to see the geysers,” he added, his eyes brightly glowing in the cooling lights.
“We’ll see,” said Kate. Last year was a good five degrees cooler on average. Adding up the increases in temperature, the world had jumped up about fifteen degrees, in some places almost eighteen.
“Please say yes, mom.”
“Yes, maybe we can go to Greenland or Alaska,” she agreed. Just the thought of Alaska felt cool. All she could think about these days was Christmas as a kid in New England. Frosted windows, decorated with snowmen and Santa Claus. Staring up at the starry sky. Whenever she felt a wave of panic creeping up, heat flashes on her neck, she imagined the wind whirling around her house in December. The whistling used to scare her as a kid. She’d call her father and mother to her room to make them stop the whistling.
“Don’t worry,” her mother said. “It’s just the wind.”
“Maybe it’s a ghost,” said little Kate, he pretty blues welled up with tear drops.
“Mommy and daddy are here, sweetheart. We’re downstairs. There are no ghosts. Go to sleep now.” Her mother tucked her in again, now for the fourth time this evening. Kate fell asleep eventually, the covers up to her eyes, so she could see the ghosts if they came out.
After homework, Liddy read Hiking in Alaska aloud to Torin. Reading about the pine trees and the cool fresh lakes felt good to Liddy, too.
“Could we visit the places where the soil is still frozen?” asked Torin.
“I’d like that too,” answered Liddy. “I’d like to walk on the frozen lakes, breathing cold air from my mouth.” Torin couldn’t wait to be in the fresh Alaskan air, his face cooled by the icy breezes.
Liddy tucked Torin in bed.
Later that night, Liddy felt the heat pushing in on the house. Even though they had the freezing air on and the coolant chilling the floors, the heat seeped in the cracks, bled in the atomic pours of the fortifications.
Kate was already asleep. Liddy didn’t turn towards her. He was sweating; his body was pulsing with heat. He rolled on his back.
He could see the hot vapor, like a pitiless ghost, issuing from the ceiling.