It’s hot. I don’t remember a time before the heat.
Some of the old-timers talk of days long gone, days when the temperature dipped and snow fell from the sky. They were just children themselves then, young and full of life. Now they live deep in the caves, seeking whatever cool they can find before they die.
It’s hot. Burning, blistering hot. It’s always been hot for us. It always will be.
It’s hot, the kind of heat that seeps into your bones and saps your will to live. Few are brave enough to venture out into the day. It’s not just the sun we fear.
We must watch for the demons.
The demons don’t come at night. They don’t wait for the cover of darkness to hunt. They don’t sneak up on you. They attack in the harsh, bright sunlight. They attack and suck you dry. They take your soul first, your will to fight. Then they take your body. They use you up and leave nothing but your husk behind.
It’s why we fear the sunlight. It’s why our hunters go out at night, and why we seek our water and prey with nothing more than weak starlight to guide us.
Not all of us are so afraid.
Jackie was the first to fight them. She was the one who warned us of their presence on this hellscape that is Earth, and when we all retreated into the caves and shied away from the sun, she was the one who ventured into the light. She hunts them, even as they hunt her. She’s the one who keeps them from our door, the guardian standing between us and total destruction. This is their world now, not ours, but she fights for us.
Her family was taken first. They were water prospectors. They roamed the land, drilling wells where they could, constantly searching for the source of our life. One good well could keep us alive. One good well could give us hope. They drilled five. They died drilling the last of the five. It pumps to this day – clean, clear water that keeps us alive.
It’s said their ghosts still tend the well, not at night, but in the full light of the sun. I’ve seen them myself – her mother, tall and fair; her father, stout and dark; her brothers, forever young and wild. They glimmer and glisten in the sun, just like the water their well pumps.
Jackie’s family was killed, but she was not. While the demons worked their magic on her family, she was not so easily fooled. Her will could not be drained; her soul could not be taken. Her will to fight remained alive, even during the blistering heat of the day, even with demons pressing in from all sides. She fought with gun and blade, with tooth and nail. She killed scores of the creatures before the creeping twilight finally drove them away.
When the horror of the day ended, she fell to her knees and wept. But she did not break. She buried her family, the dried husks the demons had left, and she waited. She waited for the sun to rise, for the heat to creep to its peak. She waited for the demons.
They came again. But they could not take her. She would not be defeated. Though they scratched and clawed, snapped and burned, she would not give in. She would not die. She would not yield. She would not flee.
They retreated with the sun, and in the blessed dark of night, Jackie wept again.
A third day dawned. Surely, she could not survive another harsh day in the sun. Surely, the demons would take her now.
They did not.
They came. They fought. They died. She killed them all, no matter how fiercely they flamed, no matter how brightly they burned. They died.
They did not wait for the darkness to flee this time. They had awakened a demon greater than themselves, and they feared her.
When the moon rose on the third night, Jackie piled their bodies high. She burned them, all but one. This one – the first to come, the first to be killed – she dragged behind her. She dragged it all night, until she reached the safety of our caves. She showed us this fierce demon, and we were afraid. And well we should be, for few can survive their canny tricks and bright power.
Except Jackie. She hunts them even now, tracking them over cracked ground and dusty plains in the bright sunlight where people fear to tread. She hunts them so that one day, perhaps, we may venture out once more into the wastelands under the sun. One day, maybe, we can remake the world.
But for now, we hide from the demons. We hide from the sun. We get our life from the wells in the dark of night. And only Jackie stands between us and our destruction.
Illustration by Blain Hefner.