Sweat drenches Anthony's face as he works the family farm, sores forming as each drop boils the flesh of his forehead. He tends to the wheat forcefully, trying to ignore the heat, only stopping to wipe the sweat from his face. If he can just stay focused, everything will be fine.
The land stretches far with only the small farm and house occupying it. Beyond the farm is nothing, beyond that the horizon, always distorted from the heat. The soil doesn't give much life, and what it does is quickly destroyed by the sun and pests. They had tried raising animals before, but nothing lives long here. His family was the first to settle here years ago and no one has settled here since. It's a lonely place.
Today has been the same as all days. He wakes up before the rest of his family and comes to the farm, usually an hour before they awake. He's the oldest child in the family and the most fit for work. His father had passed years ago, as had his brothers. Apoplexy is common in his area. Some blame the heat, but no one really knows. He never wanted this life. His nights filled with sweat and bad dreams, his days a constant knot in his stomach and the unending urge to run away. He hates the farm, the old house, the horizon. But it's safe here. He could leave, New York City is only a few days of travel away, but he can't. Nothing would be better there.
The heat is making him nervous again. He feels faint, his vision blurry. He can feel his heartbeat in every part of his body, each beat making his body feel unstable on the ground it stands. Each one making him more aware of his body and everything in it. The blood rushing through his veins, the bones keeping him upright, his whole self floating in his skull, dehydration creeping in.
He turns away and walks back to the house. He needs shade, the heat is getting to him. He'll feel safer inside. The road is short, but any length is too long.
He enters the house through the front door, putting his straw hat on the rack attached lazily to the wall. The house is old, void of any life it used to have. Rot covers the wooden walls, memories of illness and miscarriage fill the hot, still air. It's small, it feels too closed in. It's no cooler in here. There are only two rooms, a dining room, and a living area, the latter with three beds lining the wall. Anthony finds no comfort here, no safety, but it's the only place he has. There's nowhere else to go.
"Mama?" he calls out, peeking around the open door to the dining room.
He stops as he enters the room, his stomach sinking six feet.
The dining room is the cleaner of the two rooms, but no less empty. A family portrait hangs crookedly on the back wall above a window, a small table in the center. On the left side of the table sits his mother. To the right, his sister. They sit facing each other, tied to their chairs, arms bound at their back, off-white cloth wrapped tightly around their mouths. A black silhouette of a man at the back wall, standing firm and tall, black smoke rising from his mouth and eyes. His silhouette disorienting, shifting quickly in stutters. A long knife hangs from his right hand, the reflection of the sun outside burning into Anthony's eyes.
"Ma!," he yells, falling into the frame of the door as he rushes backward.
His mother tries to scream through the cloth, making a mumbled but violent screech. Anthony's vision blurs as the sound pierces his ears, his head throbs with pain, every pulsing knock blinding him. The man approaches his mother, each step setting a path of fire behind him. He quickly impales her throat with his knife, the force enough to exit the back of her neck, securing itself and her into the back of the chair. She tries again to scream, but struggles as blood overflows from her lungs, leaking out of the hole in her throat.
Anthony tries to speak out but his voice is silent. His heart races as his eyes dart the room, looking for something, anything to stop this. A rifle lays within his reach, leaning against the left wall. He grabs the rifle, turning around swiftly to aim it at the man, falling into to the wall.
"Stop!" he stutters out, weakness and fear in his voice.
His finger shakes on the trigger.
His sister throws herself back, trying to move the chair away from the man. He grabs her by the hair, throwing her head violently into the dining table, her left cheek pushed forcefully into it. The sound of her skull cracking echoes through the room. In one fluid motion, he pulls another knife from his coat and thrusts it into her right cheek, pinning her to the table. His hands glow red and yellow like embers of a fire as he wraps them around her throat. The skin of her neck melts, becoming one with the table. Her breathing stops, eyes rolling back as flames engulf her face. Her flesh bubbles, boiling. A thick black liquid flows from her mouth, covering her entire body.
Anthony tries to pull the trigger, but his hand resists. His vision goes hazy, nothing looks real. He watches from afar as he points the gun to his stomach and fires. The pain in his abdomen shocks him back to reality, his overalls stained in blood, the heat of the wound melding the loose thread to his skin.
Anthony drops the gun and turns back to run. Pain shoots through his body as his right foot reaches towards the front door. His leg forces itself back to the room, his body twisting itself to where it was. He tries to stop it, tries to force his leg to the exit. He screams as his leg breaks at the knee, his whole body unwilling to cooperate as it turns back toward the dining room.
The room is on fire. His mother crying in her chair, his sister in her's. While everything is as it was when he first entered, the man now stands closer to Anthony.
He watches as his mother's head throws itself into the chair, blood gushing from her throat. Blood leaks from his sister's cheeks as her body throws itself into the fire and flesh covered table. The man moves closer.
Anthony tries walking backward, but every step is a new hell. His body bending and breaking, not listening, returning him to where it was.
His mother and sister, now fully aflame, sit unharmed in their chairs.
"Stop!" Anthony screams, as his mother's head slams into the back of the chair.
He wants to run, he wants this to stop, but any movement is met with painful resistance as his body reverts to where it was.
The man stands in front of him, the heat of his body burning Anthony's. The sound of his bones shattering hide the sound of his mother's head being slung into the back of her chair. He tries to stay standing as his body collapses. The feeling of his bones grinding into his muscles making him nauseous, flakes of bone rushing through his veins.
He lays motionless on the burning floor, his body a mound of flesh and ash, eyes fixed to his family's perpetual death. Sections of the walls crashing to the floor around him, a parade of slow floating embers fill the space the man once stood. His eyes close, his eyelids unwilling to let the smoke in. He gives in as it fills his throat, breathing it in with no fight. All pain fades as the fire swallows his body.
Anthony wakes up with the smell of smoke and burnt flesh filling his nose, rubbing the pain from his eyes. What's left of the walls are black with ash, blood covers the table and floor. The bodies of his mother and sister lay motionless on the floor, burnt and black, embers littering the space around them.
He walks towards the other side of the room, his ankles burning as he steps cautiously over the bodies of his family. He stares at the picture, hanging by a thread on the wall. His father and mother sit center, him and his two brothers to their left, his sister to their right, ash covering the face of his mother and sister. He removes it from the wall and tries to remove the ash with his shirt, but it resists. The burnt frame falls apart as he removes the picture, sliding it into the front pocket of his overalls.
He peers out the ash smeared window. The sun has gone down, the heat scattered by the wind of night. A calm washes over Anthony as he leaves the house.