Author : William P Sanders
The man trod the dusty, broken path, poorly-shod feet disturbing the detritus of a hundred years of decay and rot, sending up small plumes of filth as his heels impacted with the grime and rose again, each step propelling him onward into a future full of uncertainty and doubt and the weight of the knowledge that whatever lay beyond the next rise, it was as cold and uncaring as the earth he traveled.
Night came with a sense that nothing was different, that no changes, good or bad, were in the making, and that the dawn would come, grey and pitiless as always, a bright and yet dull point on the eastern horizon, if only he’d wait for it.
That morning, he pushed himself into a crouch and then stood, loose dirt falling from the sleeves of his coat and back to the shape he’d left in the scummy earth, that of a man curled up as though a child, a shape that would likely lay undisturbed until changed by the wind and the rain, the rain that never seemed to come, and the earth would once more forget his passing.
He trod onwards, down the same broken road, over gently rolling hills topped with brittle vegetation and the scarce whispers of a time long gone, pieces of metal or other materials shaped specifically for tasks that none were able to perform anymore.
Minutes went to hours and they in turn were lost to the vast infinity of time. He’d no notion of whether he’d covered inches or feet or yard or miles and when he thought maybe he would turn to look over his shoulder, to see if the hills were still visible, his neck ached and he stopped thinking about it.
The dull bright point hung low in the silvery western sky when a time came that he’d reached a great divide in the earth where once a bridge had spanned from one side to the other, and it came to him that this had been a river but he didn’t know how deep or wide, and anyway it didn’t matter because he couldn’t see the other side or the bottom and every muscle and fiber in his being hurt and the idea of trying to cross this, now or ever, made him physically ill.
The man sat down on the road, slender, aching back against the metal ribbon of a guard rail long gone into rust and all full of holes, and closed his eyes.
The night passed in silence with nary the chirp or chatter of even the smallest creature, and when the dull bright point rose slowly and lazily in the east after the passage of the hours, the earth found its population reduced by one.