Author : Eric San Juan

By the time the sandstorm passed, the sun had fallen and the orange skies had faded to a bruised brown and purple. The towers still seemed unreachable, perched on a dream horizon. Faint whispers of yesterday clutching at sky that no longer wanted it.

He checked his pack. Enough water to get him there, at least, and food enough for several days beyond that. What came after he did not know.

Didn’t matter. The idea of “after” seemed impossible to imagine right now.

He found a ruin clinging to the side of a slope that had probably marked the boundary of some town or village, the fat stone square of it suggesting the remnants of a place of worship. He made camp there.

A small fire, dry food, tiny nylon shelter erected quickly and without care. Ink filled the sky. Wild calls in the distance, but none near just now. The hunting creatures would not be a problem. Not tonight.

In the morning he ate bread and packed his things and began his trek once more. The land fell before him and rose again, then fell and rose, fell and rose.

He followed the rough flats of old highways when he could. Sometimes they disintegrated into stretches of tall grass and knotty green trees with ugly, sour fruit. At other times they ran true and clear a mile or more. Mother Nature was fickle about what she reclaimed, it seemed.

Two days later, he came to a great expanse of water. A river or bay, he could not remember which it was meant to be. Across it were the towers. Tall, rust red, filled with eyeholes and jagged spears of steel bone jutting out like untended ribs. The sky was bronze behind them. Above, the winged serpents circled, gliding on leather wings, barbed tails like trailing spears.

“Well damn,” he muttered. “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken this job after all.”

Finding a way to the island took him three days. The spans that once reached across the water were long since collapsed, their supporting structures now just decayed fingers poking above the lapping waves. If there had once been marinas here they had rotted generations ago.

He found boat shells strewn across the shoreline sometimes, like beetle carapaces thick with mold, but they were useless. But on the third day he found what must have been a boathouse at one time, made of stone, still enclosed, still untouched, one of the rare refuges from the march of the apocalypse. Inside was a small, single-person craft with a long, double-sided paddle. He was able to kick open the doors and push it out into the green waters.

And so, unprotected, in little more than a plastic sheath, he rowed himself across the waters leading to the city on the island, hellspawn circling the dank towers before him, the air a fog of rust and bone, his knife little protection from the nightmares he might face, but his mind the entire time on nothing more than that shock of blonde hair that had started it all.

If he never saw her again it would be too soon.

But he rowed all the same.

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