He awoke slowly to a searing white heat that stroked the lower half of his body.
He was acutely aware this should cause alarm, but for some reason, he felt no pain.
Frantically, he tried moving his body.
A twitch from his left leg, then nothing.
There was no time to relinquish this small victory. His survival instincts kicked into overdrive as he began to regain consciousness. He tried moving his fingers, which lay somewhere beyond the crux of his arms. Another jerk.
He knew his legs were somewhere beyond his torso, but they weren’t in sight. His head lay buried amongst charred leaves and he felt heavy, like his body could press down into the soil around him and sink down, away from all of this…
More heat. The acrid smell of burnt skin filled his nostrils and fire danced beyond his blurred vision.
Desperately, he tried moving his body away from the heat. Nothing. Backpedaling in his mind, he searched for answers to questions that began to pour into his mind at an alarming rate.
Bile filled his throat.
He didn’t know where he was or what happened. Why couldn’t he move?
Flames hungrily licked their way up his torso.
Though he didn’t seem to feel pain, fire crackled around him, on him, on his clothing. Fumbling around like a child, he scrambled to extinguish the flames.
After the last of the blaze had been put out, he managed to sit upright. Moving his gaze from his blackened sneakers, he allowed himself to take in the inferno around him.
The earth glowed violently within every conceivable sight.
Scores of burning logs lay scattered across the forest floor. Red-hot coals gave way to tree trunks, brightly ablaze in the smoke-filled air. His gaze flicked up, past the hungry flames that roared above his head. Smoke rose in plumes, giving way to a dark sky.
A more pressing question developed in his mind.
Shouldn’t he be dead?
There wasn’t time to lay in this hell-bound forest conjuring up such questions, he thought. He knew he had to get moving.
Though the fire hadn’t caused him any pain, it would only be a matter of time until a falling tree branch finished what the flames could not.
He pushed himself up from the ground, trying to hold his body on unsteady legs. As he took a step forward, he tripped over a log and struggled to right himself again. Blood rushed to his head instantly and he blinked away stars that threatened to consume his vision. Sinking back to the ground, he wiped soot onto the remains of his t-shirt.
Which way should he even go?
Hunched over like a beggar, his vision refocused onto the scorched pockets of his pants. Soot had claimed the ragged fabric as its own. He ran his hands over the small holes of his pants pockets methodically, trying to find a talisman from the time before the fire, but there was nothing, no trace of what his life had been.
Beyond the growing feeling of dread that tightened around his throat, he began to realize something he hadn’t before.
His skin wasn’t singed underneath the tattered holes of his pants. In fact, he couldn’t find any angry red welts that should be stretched across his legs and abdomen by now. Hadn’t he just been burning alive a few minutes ago? Nothing made sense.
He blinked away tears that had nothing to do with the thick smoke, which now began to envelop him in a dull haze. Another more pressing question loomed in his mind.
If his skin wasn’t covered in burns, why did he smell burning flesh?
Amidst the roaring fire of the forest, cold dread pooled in his stomach. He wiped away the tears that left clean trails down his cheeks, now horrified.
Slowly, he crawled towards the log he had tripped over a minute ago.
The smell of incinerated flesh overwhelmed him, but he could not look away once he saw its horribly charred face. Eyes met eyes, and suddenly, the body let out a blood-curdling scream.