September Shocks #6 – Steve Cain

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My Name is John

by Steve Cain

            So hot, he thought, wiping sweat off his forehead. He ignored the square of skin that flew with his perspiration. It hit the ground with a thud and stuck, sizzling in the heat.

            It had been hours since he’d drank. His mouth was dry; his lips were crusty. The moisture was evaporating from his body and his skin tightened. Ahead was another figure walking up Route 64. He tried to call out, but his tongue stuck to his teeth; he couldn’t make more than a moan escape his mouth.

            He paused, looking around for a bit of shade. There was only asphalt, sand, and cacti. The figure ahead shambled on, growing smaller as it moved farther away.

            He was disoriented. The heat was playing with his mind. Everything was fuzzy. He didn’t know why he was walking, but there was an urge driving him. My name. What’s my name? Something with “J.” His lips opened, and he stutter-whispered “J-J-J,” but that was all. Jimmy? Jacob? Jules? No.

            He walked on, nearly tripping over his untied right shoelace. He couldn’t fall; he might not get up. He was tired. T-t-tired.

            The road rose slight and looked like it dropped away into nothingness. Everything was hazy. He wanted to run, but his legs wouldn’t obey.

            J-j-john, he remembered, my name is John. A slight smile crossed his lips, cracking the red crust ringing his mouth. My name is John. He couldn’t remember where he was from, couldn’t remember his mother and father. Didn’t know if he had a wife, or kids. My name is John. He clung to that.

            He doddered on, following the figure in the distance, maybe a mile ahead. Other figures were with it now, close together. Not social distancing, he thought, not knowing why he’d thought it. What did it mean? I’m John, he yelled in his head, but they didn’t hear him. “J-j-j”.

            John came to a sign and stopped, trying to read it. “G-g-g,” was all he could muster. There was a vague recollection, but the letters ran together. Hole. He kept walking, dragging his left foot along now. The shoe pulled off, and the scalding asphalt burned through his sock. He ignored it. He was close.

            The figures ahead of him were gone, but he continued in the same direction. A path forked to the right, but he tottered straight ahead. He had an urge to see. The road ended at an overlook. Stumbling forward to a short rock wall, John looked down. Below were his people. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands? He didn’t know, but he could hear them calling him, hear them echoing off the canyon walls.

            “B-b-b.”

            “S-s-s”

            “L-l-l.”

            “J-j-j,” he replied, but he couldn’t remember his name. Just “J.” He was J.

            He turned towards the path he had seen prior to the rim. He would go there. That’s where he would join his family. “F-f-a,” he stammered. “F-f-f.”

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