The single window in my apartment: thicker than my arm is long. Where there are no windows, concrete and steel layer just as dense. Beyond these arms length barriers an intolerable earth. Wherever we walk, it is within these confines we conduct all of life. Under the canopy of the eternal ark, where fresh air abounds.
Wandering outdoors has become both too cumbersome and dire. One must don a fire retardant suit. Still, there is no calculating how a person will react shortly after exposure. Bodies gilded tin, the sun’s rays reflect off the silver lining -- but its heat still penetrates. The sensation ignites a fearsome fire, and desperate to extinguish the phantom flames, a perilous wanderer strips naked. Without barrier a bare body collapses to the floor within minutes, their pendulous tumble capped with a resounding crunch, as their crisped skin crumbles against the dusted earth.
So we stay indoors. Bubbled towns connect via airtight tunnels over land and sea. One could traverse all six remaining continents without ever exposing themselves to the sun. Antarctica survives as a specter, no longer bound to the borders of its icecaps. It is best known for its hauntings. Rising waters that drowned three stories of New York City’s Financial District. Rains over Nebraska that killed a million cattle. The summer when vultures ate better than man. Unrestrained, Antarctica turned deadly, something horrifically free, a violent convict escaped from prison. Or so it was. The heat that melted the ice that rose the seas ceaselessly scorched the water’s surface. Water droplets floated into thin air, and without a cloud to catch them never returned to earth. Everything had found a knack for escaping this planet. Not us homo sapiens, who, stubborn, remain entrapped in solitude. Maddengly awaiting our chance to once again escape back into our home planet - for our chance to become like Antarcica, borderless and free.
Only twice in my life have I ventured outside. Even then, when the earth's air measured one hundred degrees cooler, my suit could not prolong my existence outdoors for more than ten minutes before I retreated inside, desperate for a modest gulp of air. How long has it been since then? Twenty, twenty five years? Long enough that my fear of suffocation has been outsized by another. Though inside I am safe and the walls never move, I feel them closing in, heaving, eager to crush me flat.
I envy the ancients, who rellished at the sun and frollicked under it without fear or protection. When the celestial centerpiece of our planet hung in the sky as an object of adoration, its miraculous persistence generated dances, sacrifices, and praise. I envy the scientists of those Renaissance eras, who usurped powers of churches and states by observing the nature of the sun, and elevated it to such stature that it remains even above scientific naming. All other stars pet-named: Proxima Centauri, Lalande 21185, Wolf 359. Lowly stars undeserving of the universal Sun. The name we now curse.
Plants once photosynthesized by its rays vanished, withering under relentless heat. Crops became too costly to maintain. Barren fields caught ablaze. Smoke billowed overhead without end. Those unfortunate enough to die during this phase could not be buried, the ground had become too stiff and the necessity to preserve energy too great. Their corpses slow roasted, smoked, tender as Carolina BBQ. Bureaucratic missteps cost countless lives, but by time average temperatures reached one hundred and thirty degrees we'd finally made our way indoors. Inside this labyrinth of our making. Insulated from the dangers of the outdoors we cursed it. Of all the man made wonders of the world, this would perhaps be its last, this eternal ark. If any wonder remained it was if any of us would ever again inhabit the outdoors.
At the turn of the 20th century, industries coined outdoor living as 'recreational.' Condemned inside, time outdoors, its air and ecosystems having morphed every ancestral mutation, I now know is obligatory. As necessary for the continuation of human lineages as copulation. They try to mimic the wild. There are jungles and forests flourishing under massive, UV lights. Sterile replicants of fargone landscapes. These simulacrums satisfy primal urges of those born too late - who know no better. To myself, and my contemporaries, these landscapes are a bedeviled artifice incapable of satiating our cravings for the primordial outdoors. Contained indoors for too long, my once rational longing for outdoor air has matured into a perverted carnal desire most certain to ruin my life. Still, through that thick glass, I watch for traces of its wind, and long for its hot breath to traverse my neck. In envy, I watch pebbles and dust toss themselves wildly into the outside gust, twirling in its embrace, levitating to its touch, until its upward trajectory rouses a phallic path. Inside I reside, placid and still. Words like adventurous and thrilling as foreign as the outdoors. Yet, my dormant desire remains. I want just one breath, its hot touch to spicen my throat, awaken in me a crazed, sleeping nympholeptic. Mother Earth turned madame, naturel fatale.
Is it possible that all bloodlines dwindle? That stories of sudden extinctions survive as conservative maxims fixated on crafting a more perfect lineage, one less troubled and jumbled? Perhaps the end of the human race ends not off a sudden cliff, some biblical plague from the divine, a fall from grace, but the begrudging surrender of exceptionalism to some yet named power. A surrender which, for generations, could have been negotiated to better terms, to a more affable existence to our inheritors, but behold, the dwindling capacity of humanity lessened, the position to negotiate has disappeared and what remains are ultimatums. I've watched my contemporaries grip the side of this hill, upon which we all seem destined to die, and despite their efforts continue to fall. I am searching for the edge of a cliff, to land safely on some plateau or splatter at the bottom.
It is night, a cool two hundred degrees, nearly one hundred degrees cooler than midday, and I, after two or so decades since its last touch, am ready to feel the tragic grip of the outdoors. I put on my wrinkled suit, and seal my helmet. I walk through multiple barricades ensuring the indoors remains, without incident, insulated from the hot, outside air. In five minutes I'm beyond the final barrier, peering across a vast landscape.
The moon still levitates in the sky. It rarely crosses my mind. From inside, it's a small dot seen through a small window on opportune nights, and even then, it hangs above hazy skies that disperse its light, spilling its shapeless rays across the sky. Tonight, the sky is clear, and the moon is bright. I'm reminded of why the moon was once the subject of many songs and poems. When I first look upwards I'm struck by its brightness, or rather, the scale of its surrounding darkness. I'm humbled by its unadulterated sight. Then I remember that even outdoors I still see it through a window - framed through the goggles of my airtight helmet. The revelation sirs in me a panic. I stand, isolated from this wondrous, partitioned moon, amidst a flat, dusty, landscape as far as the moonlight illuminates. No matter how far I run, the thing that I cannot escape is my being, surviving, indoors. Even outdoors, I am not.
Inside my suit I squirm, eager to manifest some calming sensation of freedom. The only thought that tempts relief is to feel that blue lunar reflection shine against my skin. I think nothing else, and before I articulate any potential consequences my helmet is removed from my suit and, for the first time in ten years, I breathe the outside air. A thermometer on the wrist of my suit reads 99. The air goes down like a heavy puff of a cigarette, hot and unwieldy, and I cough. In this fit, I lose control of the depth and rhythm of my breath, which amplifies the burning that travels from the tip of my tongue to the bottom of my lungs. The hot air fills my lungs. I quiver as I try to halt my choking. 100. The heat is so intense my throat has dried. I, desperate for air, cannot manage to fit molecules of oxygen down my tightened trachea. I try once through my nose, only to ignite my untrimmed hairs. The scent of my scorching hairs fills my nasal cavity. I reflexively open my mouth to gasp for air. By some miraculous act, I resist. The thermometer already reads 101.
A few seconds later and my mind calms. I manage a few consistent breathes. 102. Still, the relentless heat seeps into my cranial lobes, deeper into my lungs, so that the very moment I believe I found a rhythm, a sense of predictability, a wave of frenzy overtakes my mind. 103. I desperately want to return to the shelter of my suit, to encase my head in glass. How quickly rationality and ethics disappear in the face of death. I take another breath and collapse.
I'm unsure how much time has passed. My thermometer reads 104. It could not have been long. Still I am delusional and weak. Before I finish another breath, I seal my suit. The act exhausts me. But within seconds my suit expunges outside air, and I feel an immense relief. What's natural is no longer wise, no man or woman can live untethered from its creations. Indeed, the earth itself is now a product of mankind.
I return to my titular cocoon, my apartment, where life suspends, but nothing ever changes. Indoors, the temperature stays a steady seventy at all hours. That tepid, dispassionate air flows through my lungs, into my blood, oxygenating my every cell, rendering me irreversibly docile. My temperature remains an unchanging 98.6. Some interpret the unvarying environment as comforting. I sit on the sill of my lone apartment window and stare out to the barren moonlit ground, where moments before I nearly took my last breath.
The day after my sullied excursion outdoors I recall the grip of that hot air, the way my heart raced and breath seized like we had exchanged some unconsented kiss. My withdrawal dried my lips and asphyxiated my lungs, leaving me gasping for what to do next. How to right my shame, as a man who could no longer tolerate the bare conditions of my home planet. How terrible that the earth was now synonymous with grave. Perhaps it's always been that way, even when the weather was more temperate. Travel the axis of time and see that every man and woman, at least their remains, will recollect most time on earth as from their grave. Though mute, my fossils will one day testify the same. Now, my days are static repetitions of another. Insipid nibbles from the pie of life, crusted and stale. The heat has baked into my mind an unwavering conviction: inside, 'life' is a misnomer, a euphemism that shrouds my pitiful, flaccid existence.
When the internal temperature of a human body reaches one hundred and four degrees the temperature has exceeded tempering. By then, water empties from muscle fibers in an attempt to cool the skin. Cramps slump a person still. But the unending heat continues to elevate the body's temperature. The heart patters, beats, and thumps blood to preserve the function of each organ but with each pump the body heats and the demand for sweat increases. Without sweat, the heart pumps harder. At one hundred and five degrees, proteins denature, and the softest tissues begin to cook. Brain cells disintegrate - forever. The person grows faint and hallucinatory. The lucky fall unconscious before they feel from within the ignition of an inextinguishable fire. But for both the conscious and unconscious, reaching an internal temperature of one hundred and five degrees soon means death.
Another, more majestic, experience, coincides with death. The remaining bits of dimethyltryptamine - DMT - release in the brain. Aside from recreational or religious consumption, the only other time DMT is released into a person's mind is upon birth. In all observed instances, the individual experiences intense hallucinations, and euphoria. Space and time morph into similar dimensions. More inexplicably, a host of elves is frequently cited as visiting those under the influence of DMT. Don't let the elves distract you. What I remember most about my brief moment outdoors, after I awakened, was the euphoria which vibrated deep into my body. A fantasia which surpassed all previous pleasures. The touch of death caressed me, and I shook as a shivering virgin. I want its hand upon me again. Not just briefly or partly, but without end. Until I receive the inheritance of a fine and finished life. A borderless bliss, absent of origin and description.
Sometime long ago ancestors banded together and turned against the sun, refusing to lend it sacrifices. We'd believed ourselves more clever than that ball of unrelenting fire. We even mocked its existence by making miniature versions, calling it nuclear, and tossed those bombs at another to silence our enemies. In short, we believed we'd conquered the sun, that its power was ours to wield, that though we were the recipients of its rays, it stood beneath us. Who dares mock me now? I hear the sun taunt. What other reparations remain except for each of us, lineage of the great and terrible figures, to surrender ourselves to its long repressed-wrath gradually seeping, scorching the earth?
A metamorphosis may have been happening after all. I could have sworn that my cocoon, my nest of serenity, left me unchanging. What I did not see was that I, like the sun, steadily, imperceptibly, evolved. My disdain for life trapped behind glass, cordoned into fragments certified as safe, underwent an immense mitosis. Until, like the outside world, my every thought boiled hot with hatred for what remained of this putrid earth of our own making. I only wish now to become the earth. To rest under its heat as a sort of sacrifice. I ask, sun, that you let that last breath feel like forever, enshrined in pleasure, as every last droplet of DMT rattles my every cellular receptor. In that rattling I will verify that what awaits me is not a dying, but a becoming. Like a water droplet poured onto a hot skillet, sizzling, until, vaporized, it rises above the pan free to roam wherever it most pleases. On the lips of that unsuspecting chef. To a place far beyond the kitchen. Wherever.
Outside, I begin to choke. It's happening again. 102. The shivering, perspiration, and moderate hallucinations. 103. This time I've vowed to stay aground. 104. Look at me. 105. Trembling in anticipation of your deadly kiss.