No matter how cool you are, everyone melts, eventually. Those words echoed through my head as I raced across the desert floor, heading northeast toward Lunar Crater, under the Nevada sun. Where I had heard them before, I couldn’t recall. My memory wasn’t what it used to be, but I would hear those words spoken to me in my dreams sometimes, stepping out of the inky black fog of my damaged memory. I think someone close to me had said them ages ago. They were strange words since the only person I knew of for whom melting was a concern was me. Regardless, seldom before was that fate as likely to occur for someone—that being me—as it was today.
I’d been gulping dry air and daydreaming of cold cans of soda pop, muttering product slogans to myself to keep my spirits up for several miles now. Steam rose from my icy shoulders, trailing me in wisps, disappearing into the dry desert air a few feet back. My cold feet left wet footprints on the sandy ground that soon evaporated into nothingness. I kicked a loose rock, stumbled, but caught myself before falling.
Without more moisture, I’ll soon be eating dust, I thought. Just a hot mess for the agents to find. Scratch that—my corpse won’t be around long enough. I’ll melt away, leaving only a trail of faint roundish footprints leading nowhere. They’ll think I flew away, picked up by Soviet agents in a helicopter. I’d love to see Dixon’s face, thinking the Reds got me.
Nineteen hours earlier, I’d escaped a prison—the labs of a top-secret research facility called the Bodhi Institute. For about a decade, I’d been an unwilling participant in more experiments than I care to remember. I’d slipped out a side door in the middle of the night with a small cache of supplies provided by my best friend, Scott. It was easier than expected, but I guess I didn’t seem suicidal to the Bodhi Group watchmen. The weak part of me wished I were back there: trapped but cool, a glass of ice water in hand, watching TV, reading a book, or taking a nap. But my nightmares made that impossible. I’d ignored them for months, while they haunted only my sleep. But when they’d invaded my waking hours, I had to go. I had to find answers. I had to find the ancient chamber that stood at their epicentre and that some instinct told me lay ahead of me, in the desert waste.
I didn’t know who I was or where I came from. Not really; not fully. Sure, I remembered most of the years of my detention with crystal clarity. I knew what I was: an organism of snow and ice, unique in all the world. A snowman, they called me; cold hands with a warm heart. I knew what I was capable of; even with no legs, my feet run like the wind and allow me to jump as high as I am tall. I can do other things—things that frighten and astonish people, people like those chasing me. So much so, they’d locked me up and studied me like a lab rat for the past decade. I remembered all that, but little to nothing further into my past than my capture and imprisonment. And I remembered my name, Shivurr, but it was a name, an identity, that lacked history or context, which was both freeing and frustrating.
I had bigger problems than amnesia, though. I’d messed up, big time—pushed too hard through the night instead of seeking shelter to wait out the heat of the day. When the sun rose in all its deadly glory, I gawked at its dangerous beauty like a Grand Canyon tourist instead of running for cover. Ten years stuck underground made me a sucker for a pleasant view and fresh air, I guess. By the time the view got old, only the open, unshaded desert encircled me. I had no choice but to keep on toward the crater. Hopefully I’d find shade there or water trapped near the bottom.
Right, I thought, and there’ll be a 7-Eleven selling Slurpees, too.
I studied the red-and-white logo on the small glass bottle in my hand. A mouthful of dark sugary liquid sloshed around the bottom. Black gold. I drank the last swallow and scowled. Warm and sticky, the sugar crept to my extremities. My mind cleared as my body cooled. My frosty shell constricted, insulating my innards against the heat, delaying my inevitable demise for a while longer.
But for how long? I wondered.
Scott had once said, during one of our many conversations, “Life is just a car accident in progress. We twist and turn the wheel, following different paths—some hit the accelerator, some brake, some steer into others—but no one avoids that final fatal collision.”
Looks like I hit a patch of black ice, Scott, but I’m not ready to stop twisting the wheel.
I’m only a kid when it comes to my memories; a frost child a mere decade old, too young to die. That thought and the soda pop renewed my resolve to fight against that final misfortune to the end, even against the scorching sun and scalding earth. Calamity or not, I had to believe that sometimes, for the lucky, enough joy and achievement occurs while the tragedy plays out to make the struggle worthwhile.
I’m already here, I might as well make the best of it, right?
I’d mapped out my journey before setting out using maps Scott had procured for me. Lunar Crater lay along that path, a short distance ahead. At my current speed, I would make it within an hour, so I raced on. I pushed my discomfort aside by focusing on the scenery and sounds of the desert insects and wind. I reeled back as a roadrunner burst from cover ahead of me, shot straight ahead, and veered off to my right. Its mottled black-and-brown feathers blended with the terrain before it disappeared as if it had never been there.
A sharp sensation—like I’d been stabbed with a two-pronged fork—rushed along my nervous system from my right foot to my brain. I snarled and looked down. A rattlesnake, snow dribbling from its mouth, glared at me and recoiled. I took several steps back, sat and rubbed my foot, keeping a watchful eye as it slithered into the desert underbrush and vanished from view. If not for the few drops of liquid left in its wake and my burning foot, I’d have thought I’d imagined it. I scrutinized the spot where I’d last seen it for a while after its rattle disappeared, then crawled over to rest a minute in the meagre shadow of a nearby bush. I lay there panting, feeling the venom course through my body.