“Daddy, why does the ground burn?” little Suzie asked.
Paul could only stare at the ground before them. He didn’t know himself, but he knew his daughter’s ability to remain calm relied on him being in control of the situation.
“I don’t know, honey, but we’ll be okay,” he assured her.
He nudged her back inside the house, and then stepped back out onto the porch to study the ground.
Nothing was clear. They had woke up that morning, and as soon as Suzie ran out to play in the yard, her feet started to get hot. It wasn’t long before she ran back into the house crying.
Her feet were a little red, but within an hour, her feet had returned to their normal color.
She explained what had happened and at first, Paul thought it was something with the shoes.
When he had walked out onto the yard himself, it wasn’t long before his feet began to feel unnaturally warm. He stayed in the yard as long as he could, but eventually he also ran into the house, feeling like his feet were on fire.
The shoes themselves seemed fine. Only his feet were as red as his daughter’s had been. Before long, the color of his feet returned to normal.
He turned on the television to see if anything was being reported, and to his surprise, that was all the news was talking about.
They explained that people were swarming into the hospitals complaining of burning feet, only to be fine when it was their turn to be seen.
It didn’t take long before they realized that whenever people stepped off the paved areas and walked directly on solid ground, their feet would begin to get hot.
They had a scientist on the news that explained the best he could, that as of right now, as long as people stayed on paved roads, and off the exposed areas, they were fine, but he couldn’t explain what the cause was.
Paul relaxed a little. He knew at least for the moment, they were going to be okay as long as they stayed in the house, or on the sidewalks and roads.
“Okay, honey,” Paul explained to Suzie. “For now, we need to stay off the grass, okay?”
“You can walk on the sidewalks and roads,” he continued. “But you need to stay off the grass for now.”
She nodded in understanding.
Initially, people had panicked, but over the next few weeks the world adapted to staying off the grass, and life seemed to return to relative normalcy.
Paul was doing the dishes, the news on the tv off to the side with scientists explaining how they were working on finding the cause, and a solution, when he heard a car squeal outside.
Not hearing a crash, he calmly set down the dish rag and walked outside to investigate.
When he stepped outside, he saw a couple of people walking around the car. They looked like they were inspecting the tires.
“Is everything alright?” he asked as he approached them.
One of the men looked up and said, “I don’t know what happened. I was just driving when my tire popped. At first I thought I had run over something, but take a look at this.”
The man waived Paul to look.
“That is odd,” Paul said, looking at the tire.
It looked like it had melted, instead of having run over something. He had expected the bottom of the tire to be flat from the weight of the vehicle, but this was different.
Instead of just being flat, it looked like the wheel had partially liquefied.
Paul focused on his feet, wondering if he would feel any heat, but didn’t.
All of a sudden, they heard a scream of pain coming from across the street.
A woman had fallen to the ground and was cradling both her feet.
They all ran to her to see what was happening.
Paul knelt down and asked, “What happened? Are you alright?”
Trying to speak through the pain, she replied, “My feet started burning. I stayed on the pavement the entire time, but my feet still started to burn.”
Everybody instinctively looked down at their own feet, and then at each other shaking their heads, indicating they didn’t feel anything different.
“My feet had been feeling warm during some of my runs,” the lady continued. “But I thought it was just due to the pavement being warm from the sun. I didn’t used to run on the pavement. I only started when my feet started burning while jogging on the trails.”
Paul didn’t like that her feet were showing the same affects as walking on the grass, and when he looked at the others, he could tell they were thinking the same thing.
Reading each other’s minds, they all looked back at the car, wondering if the same thing had happened to the wheel.
“Let’s get you inside,” Paul suggested.
Cautiously, he lifted her up and carried her into his house.
“Just rest up while I get a cold, wet rag for you,” he said.
She nodded as he walked away.
After a short time, the redness in her feet dissipated and returned to a more natural color.
“I’m not sure what is going on out there, but maybe I should drive you home,” Paul said.
Once Suzie was buckled up, Paul drove the lady home.
“Thank you for your help,” the lady said as she got out of the car.
“It was our pleasure,” Paul reassured her. “I would suggest you take a break from running for now. At least until we find out what’s going on.
She nodded and walked away.
Paul used the rearview mirror to give Suzie a quick smile, which she quickly returned, and then he started driving home.
As he drove down the busiest street their town had, almost in unison, a dozen cars, including his, came to a screeching halt as their tires suddenly popped.
The first thing Paul did was make sure Suzie was alright. Except for being a little scared, she was fine. Luckily, no cars had run into each other, which Paul thought was unusual.
‘With all the car’s tires popping at once. You would think a few of the cars would lose control and hit something,’ Paul thought.
Instead of maintaining their relative speed and attempting to stop their cars, it was as if the tires popped due to melting and acted as a sort of glue, quickly slowing the cars to a halt before they could lose control.
Paul was slightly relieved when he saw that he had stopped right next to a parking spot.
As he pulled the car into it, he had to use a little gas since it felt like the car was sticking to the ground, and the tires made a strange squishing sound.
The cars whose tires didn’t initially pop, began popping one by one, sticking the cars to the ground where they were.
People started to get out of their cars and began examining their tires.
Curious pedestrians also strolled in to see what was going on.
Paul had a bad feeling with the whole situation. Thinking back to the jogger who had said she stayed on the pavement when she ran added to his concern.
“Let’s get you home,” Paul said, turning his head to look at Suzie.
The thought of getting home raised her spirits slightly.
Luckily for him, she was small enough that he could carry her with little effort.
While everyone around them was talking and trying to sort out the most recent event, Paul held Suzie tight and began weaving through the crowd towards home.
He was able to pick up his pace once they were out of the town, but he knew he still had a ways until they made it home.
When he was almost three quarters of the way, his feet started to feel warm.
Normally, he would ignore the heat and chalk it up to the amount of walking he was doing, but due to the current environment they lived in, he suspected it was going to start getting worse.
And he was right.
“Are you alright, daddy?” Suzie asked, seeing the discomfort on her father’s face.
“Yes, bunny,” he replied. “Just a little tired. I’ll be fine once we get home.”
Not wanting to be a burden, Suzie said, “I can walk, daddy.”
Paul smiled as confidently as he could.
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” he said. “Home is not far now.”
Trying to hide his pain, he focused on walking as fast as he could. His feet were starting to burn.
It wasn’t long before he started becoming concerned that he may not make it. His feet were starting to feel like he was walking across hot coals.
Fearing for her father, but not wanting to upset him, she looked away, pretending not to notice his obvious pain.
Not able to hold it in any longer, he hugged her close and said, “Hold on Suzie, I’m going to start jogging.”
A sharp explosion erupted each time his foot hit the ground, but he didn’t slow.
As they came around a corner, he could see the house up ahead.
The pain had reached the point where he couldn’t feel his feet touching the pavement anymore. It felt like his feet were on fire and he was only floating towards the house.
Extreme fear started to fill him as the heat started to move up his calves.
No matter how much he felt he was making progress, his house didn’t seem to get much closer.
Then the point came when he came to terms that he was not going to make it. The house now seemed on the other side of an ocean of fire that he couldn’t cross.
It felt as if the entire lower half of his torso was on fire and without realizing it, he was with each step, slowly descending towards the ground.
When he collapsed to his knees, he was barely able to speak through the pain.
“Suzie, sweetheart,” he started, through clenched teeth. “I need you to run to the house. Call 911. I’m not going to make it.”
Suzie was instantly crying, “I don’t want to leave you, daddy.”
“I know bunny, but you have to,” he said, the heat quickly moving up to his chest. “But you have to be brave now. I’m going to put you down and I need you to run as fast as you can.”
“No, daddy, no!” She half screamed, half cried.
As he lowered her down, she just kept screaming, “No daddy, stop, no, please!”
But as soon as her feet touched the ground, she took off running as fast as her little feet would go.
Fortunately, she wasn’t on the ground long enough to feel the effects and she almost ran back to her father, but she knew she couldn’t do anything for him, until she got him help.
She ran to the phone and dialed 911.
It rang busy.
She screamed in frustration but kept dialing.
“911, what’s your emergency?” the operator asked, her voice slightly shaking.
“My daddy!” Suzie sobbed. “He’s hurt! Outside on the street! He needs help!”
The operator was able to see her address based on the phone Suzie was calling from.
“Okay, stay calm. We’re sending help right now,” the operator assured her.
Normally, the operator would insist on staying on the phone with the little girl until the paramedics arrived, but the entire 911 dashboard was blinking.
“I need to help others now, but help is on the way,” the operator said. “Do you understand. Stay there and stay calm.”
The operator got no reply.
“Hello? Hello?” the operator asked. Not getting any response, she updated the paramedics to check on the little girl when they get there, and then went on to her next call.
By the time the operator hung up, Suzie was already out the door and running to her father.
She cursed her little legs as she ran as fast as she could.
Nearing her father, she could hear the ambulance’s sirens coming towards her.
She screamed when she saw her dad on the road, covered in blisters and not breathing.
As she stood there screaming in terror, not able to look away from her father’s body, her feet began to get warm.
Published on March 24, 2020 13:15 • Tags: short-story
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