The heat was inside his mind. There was a smooth hard stone buried deep within his cerebral labyrinth, radiating warmth directly into the flesh of his brain. Relentless waves filled his head, forcing briny droplets out through the pores of his scalp, his forehead, his temples, collecting and forming sporadic rivulets which plastered his hair to his baking skin.

The salty sweat stung his eyes, and attempting to clear them by blinking seemed to divert as much of the liquid into his eyes as away from them, so he squinted increasingly as time passed. It helped keep out the blinding glare anyway.

This was what had been decided. He did not know how long he would be here, but this was how it would be.

The air was not yet so hot it scorched his nostrils as he inhaled, but he knew before long it would be, cooked as it was by the pitiless sun. He kept reminding himself to close his mouth, but his breathing in the heat was heavy; he found himself panting despite himself. Consequently, his dry tongue flopped, awkwardly this way and that like a suffocating fish in a dried-up river bed.

Already, his body was wet with perspiration, his arms sticky beneath, while their upper surfaces began to cook.

The weight of his burden pulled on his neck, his shoulders, and back, through cables of tension which had crept inexorably upwards from his hands, through his wrists, his forearms, forming knots of pain in his elbows, and running over the bulges of his upper arms. Yet he knew it was what he must do.

Looking down without moving his head, he could see the edge of the shape which had been etched into the parched earth around his position. Baked as dry as it was, the staff used to incise the inch-deep line had had to make several passes before it was clear. The miniature sand-embankments thrown up on either side of the outline would easily be carried away by the wind, if there were any: now however, nothing stirred.

He imagined the ground moistening, sand becoming mud, the outline eroding. Hard to imagine it would really soon happen.

In the corner of his eye, he fancied he could make out a vague impression of the high wall which stood on top of the dyke behind him. A massive structure, extending, he knew, in both directions, until it merged with the hazy horizon. He imagined tiny silhouetted figures on top of the wall, perhaps leaning between the crenellations to gain some respite from the searing light. Perhaps watching him, and wondering.

All around, the pounding sun mercilessly cooked shimmering waves of heat out of the bone-dry earth. Was it an hallucinatory illusion, or could he make out wheeling dots high above, in the whiter-than-white glare? The only sound was his own cracked gasping, and the submarine pulse of his heartbeat, rushing and fluttering from time to time in his ears.

This is not his story…

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