It was a stark room. The walls were molded from dark concrete. The floor was made of the same concrete as the walls, as was the ceiling from which hung an assortment of lamps. Those lamps were, along with a digital thermometer mounted by the door, the room's only appointments.
"So what are we doing here?" Jrue Holiday asked. The twelve men were seated on the concrete benches that jutted out from three of the room's walls, dressed in their mesh shorts and tank tops. It was warm, but not inhospitably so.
"They told us we had to face the heat tonight," said Spencer Hawes.
"Did they? So why are we here?" Holiday asked.
"Said we had to face the heat away from home."
The digits on the thermometer began to rise as the overhead lamps began to click. 80....82...84...
Hawes looked up and saw what were once garden-variety fluorescent lamps turning orange.
"I know what's going on."
It was a dark, deep voice burbling from a corner of the room. A voice they hadn't heard much all year.
"Who the hell are you?" Hawes asked, wiping sweat from his brow as the numbers on the wall kept climbing. 98...101...
The mysterious figure said nothing and just stared back at Hawes, his face partially obscured by the towel he'd placed on his head.
"Hey!" Hawes said. "I'm talking to you."
"I don't know you."
"It doesn't matter."
"Because tonight we face the heat."
"The hell does that mean?"
Moultrie slowly removed the towel from his head, dabbed at his own face and narrowed his gaze. "Because we're not expected to beat the heat." More clicking from overhead, then a high-pitched whine.
"How will we know?" Holiday asked, shifting in his stance as the lamps heated the concrete bench to an uncomfortable temperature.
"You'll know." Moultrie placed his hands on his knees, closed his eyes and leaned his head back. The whine started to get louder.
One by one, the men jumped off the benches, unable to stand the heat on their skin. Sweat was starting to drip to the floor, where it evaporated in seconds, leaving salty streaks behind. Panic spread throughout the room. Nick Young beat on the door, begging to be let out, or at least he tried to as long as he could before the superheated steel burned the skin off his hands.
Soon, even standing became unbearable. The sound of squishing as the rubber soles of the men's shoes melted and stuck to the floor was soon drowned out by heavy breathing, then a thud and a sizzle as Lavoy Allen hit the floor.
Breathing turned to groaning and the whine finally reached an ear-splitting level. The numbers on the thermometer were scrolling too quickly to see. One man exploded in a cloud of ash, then another, then another.
Moultrie hadn't moved. He could feel the searing pain on his skin. But with as much resolve as he could muster, he smiled and leveled his gaze at the door. The last man left, it was all he could do not to choke on the ash in the air. But he managed to wheeze out a few defiant words:
"One day...we'll beat the heat."
And with a crackle and a puff of ash, he was gone.
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