Amidst a Ruin by E.R. Temblett

One weary foot led another for what seemed like an age as he travelled across the endless plains of tarmac that led him forward. Slowly winding closer to what had been his destination for years. It had never really dawned on him just how big the world was until he was forced to return to walking. The option of any other faster method of transport had been eliminated within the first few weeks, before he had really even had time to comprehend how desperately he would need it. That didn't really matter now, the end of his desperate pilgrimage was in sight and at long last he may be able to stop walking, the idea of being able to let both feet rest together once again an appealing thought, though it gave him little joy, joy was immensely hard to come by in this day and age. It had faded from the world with so much else as it slowly began to decay. Rotting and breaking down with every passing moment, leaving behind only relics of what had come before, the remnants of a civilisation so full of promise reduced to curious ruins, statues that few could tell the meaning or purpose of. Those who still remained kept to themselves the majority of the time, on occasion you’d see a small group shuffle past, eager to be rid of you as quickly as possible. Once he’d even seen a man stop as he passed by the small number of people, they had seemed different to most, better off, moving with some idea as opposed to the aimless wander that most advocated for. He could have sworn he’d seen a look of pity behind the bush of dry hair that covered his face, but it had not lasted, they scarpered as quick as the rest when he pulled the rifle off his back.

He stopped suddenly with a small scuff as he released the darkness about him that had meant he had strolled into a shadow. Raising his head and pulling back the hood from his face vaguely so he could see more clearly the enormous metal plate standing over him. A sign rusted nearly beyond recognition but to him it was unmistakable and meant his quarry was exceedingly close. He felt a small hint of pride, despite all that had happened and the unlikelihood of catharsis come the end of his journey he had managed to follow the plan, he had dragged himself the length of the country through the sick waste to reach his intended destination. It was an achievement beyond what he’d thought was possible, he hoisted his pack, felt for the soft piece of faded metal that hung about his neck and began to wander towards the glinting silver peaks that towered before him. It wouldn't be long now.

The tall towers that marked the entry to what had previously been a city loomed over him, their immensity leaning over to peak at the little creature who shuffled by at their feet, the buildings had become increasingly curious as the years went by, the sight of a person patrolling their streets below becoming ever less frequent. The city made for an odd sight these days, huge structures and masses of glass and steel taken over by vast amounts of undergrowth, tress sprung out of any patch of green, crowding together and creating enormous pools of dark shade in some places, vines and woody roots wove their way in and out of windows, the parks had become nearly untraversable now , the grass reaching up above the height of a man, the weary traveller knew better than to tempt walking through them knowing what might be lurking inside.

Occasional spots of colour brightened his slow journey as he stopped to stare at the rare patches of wild flowers which emerged from walls and the cracks between paving slabs, their delicate petals filing him with a small and dangerous tincture of hope and a frail joy. He crawled by to where he was eventually heading, his huge round pack making walking a slow process on a normal occasion but this stage was made even slower by the fact that for a small sound, a clang of metal, scattering of birds or crash of falling concrete from one of the crumbling buildings, he would stop. Quickly rushing over to anything that would suffice as cover and crouching behind it, pulling his poncho over most of his small figure and moving his loose scarf up to cover his face leaving a gap just large enough for his eyes to peer through. He then slowly pulled his rifle to squeeze against his shoulder and rested the barrel on the top of whatever rubble was currently providing him safety. It was unlikely to ever come across anything anymore, most of them had seemed to of gone away from the populated centres, moved underground or died off, he wasn't sure, but they still terrified him, even the mere thought that one could be close by was enough to send a deep and piercing fear run through him. Only when the silence had been festering for a good long time did he emerge once again, allowing his rifle to come down to his hip, his eyes still flickering maddly, scanning every inch he approached, then finally moving on once more towards his laboured goal.

A wiry smile appeared across the cracked and crusty face of the traveler as he looked up to see a street sign which hadn't quite yet given itself up to corrosion enough to be illegible, he was nearly there. His pace altered between an enthusiastic swiftness before returning to a cautious slow when he realized himself, it would be a painfully cruel ending to be taken so close to his goal. He had been walking for such a long time, he barely remembered setting out anymore, and he had somehow managed to avoid them at every turn on his way here, as much as he desired to break into a sprint for the last few streets he must remain regimented, he pulled his rifle closer into his shoulder and squinted even more vehemently into the cracked and broken ruins of the buildings on either side of the road. At an achingly slow pace he turned into a street lined with gargantuan houses, reaching up stories into the sky above, the clouds slowly clearing as if wary of the great concrete pillars. His figure was dwarfed by their crumbling vastness as he made his way down its length, like weary skeletons they watched him scuttle by with hundreds of blank empty eye sockets. A vague glint came from several hundred yards up the road, the final point of his journey finally coming into sight, the shape of a great metal stallion grew as he edged closer, the sudden weight of his destination came crashing down on him stopping him in his tracks, what if it had all been for nothing? He had no guarantee after all this time, he had only been clinging on to the hope of possibility to keep him going, his aim had been so far off that it hadn't mattered whether or not it would prove futile, it had kept him moving, kept him living. He approached, ever so slowly yet ever so surely, the huge empty space of the square in which the horse centred grew around him, with a swift motion he swung his rifle round to rest upon his shoulder once again, there was less danger of them coming here, they hated the light and if one ventured out he would have enough time to take good aim before it reached him.

He walked up to the base of the statue and laid a wrinkled hand upon it, the now softened stone felt warm under his touch, welcoming. He shuffled round the back where the service ladder was to be found and began to climb, somehow after all these years of decay it held his weight right to the base of the static horse, he took it to be a good omen. He stood vigilant from his new position of height, from here he could see the entire length of each of the streets which led off of it. With a sudden vigour he crawled around each of the great beast's legs and scanned every inch within reach for a sign, the symbol they had chosen so long ago - there was nothing to be found. Pain, disappointment and fear gripped him suddenly like a flood washing over the fragile shore of his constitution. He slumped down against the hind leg of the creature he had once thought to be lucky, cold drops of water ran down his face, the salt burning in the cracks of his lips. With a shudder he pulled his poncho over his withered frame and laid his rifle across his lap, after all this time - now he would wait.

Published in Issue #22

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