Rust
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trailmb.jpg

You can taste the rust.

It's a chilly spring morning, and the ocean's fog still hangs heavy in the air. You can taste the salt in the air, on your lips, crystallizing against your skin. It feels like if you would sit down and let the elements do their work, you would be encased by it; your body covered in a fragile crust of sea salt, a tasty treat for the local wildlife. In another time, perhaps this would have been an appealing option to you, but not today.

The first thing your eyes fall upon is an iron sign, marking the land ahead as private. "No Trespassing," it proclaims harshly, to no one in particular. It stands as a sentry, blocking your path as best it can with its sheet metal body. It, like you, has suffered greatly from the elements. The salt in the air has caused much of the low-quality iron sheetmetal to rust and wither away. Some letters are falling off, and in due time the sign will lose its voice, though it is still able to be understood today. You turn and ponder the sign further. Watching the sign scream its message into the world, slowly letting the salt and the water eat away at its body until it finally goes hoarse, you think about the times you had fruitlessly shouted your messages into the void. Was it worth it now?

As the sign and its message slowly leaves the forefront of your mind, the space it once occupied is slowly replaced with the creeping thought that you do not remember how exactly you got here. This thought normally would distress you, you think, but for a reason beyond your understanding you feel nothing but unwavering calm.

The salty air hangs heavy, clouds of mist blowing further into the woods.

The sign remains, standing sentinel on the path ahead. For all its voice and presence, it has no real power over you. It, at the end of things, is simply a sheet of pressed iron, with a message painted on, having no real obligations owed to its presence. As such, you pass by, brushing your hand against the rough rust coating. The sign does not object. It simply stands as it always has, shouting its message to the world.

You leave the sign behind, naught but a passing memory in a new world; a world which seems more and more alien as time goes on, yet crushingly familiar. The weight of this familiarity presses down with your footfalls as you ascend the hill ahead. Below you lies a small ocean town, something you have seen many times in your journeys up and down the Pacific coast. Each ocean town seems to have a similar set of features, all of which you see here in this place. Houses with faded, peeling paint, an abundance of sailboats with their masts creaking in the wind, and an empty main street. Though towns like this usually aren't busy, this place in particular seems exceptionally quiet and still. It unnerves you.

The fog seems to hug you a little tighter, the air becoming just a little more scarce as you try to breathe. It seeps its way into your lungs, though it is not obvious whether it is the air or the slow welling of fear inside your chest that truly hinders your ability to breathe. You're not entirely sure from what this fear is borne, but it begins to chill you further.

The fog grows thicker still. It seems to muffle all noise except for the creaking of the masts of sailboats, cold aluminum against rusted iron. Perhaps no noise is muffled at all, and you are simply enveloped in silence. Either way, the oppressive quiet becomes too much for you, and you begin to walk down the main street, slowly at first, until you break into a full sprint heading to the sea.

Your footfalls echo through the silent town; soundwaves ricocheting between uninhabited homes and empty storefronts, inevitably making their way back to your ears. The shock reverberates through your ankles and shins, the asphalt streets giving no quarter to your tired legs. Eventually, the asphalt turns to sand, and you begin to slow. Your chest heaves, gasping for air, as you look up to the sea and scan the horizon. Across the water, you see a spread of carcasses, but these carcasses are not the decaying bodies of whales or stinking corpses of fish. Instead, these corpses are the creaking remains of the greatest creatures to ever sit upon the sea: hulking wrecks of container ships, barges, and submarines. Metal paneling floats amongst the seaweed, alongside great burning oil slicks spreading like moss across an old stone. Thick, oily clouds of smoke rise above the sea, only to be torn asunder by the whipping wind.

You hear seagulls, crackling flames, and the gentle rush of the waves upon the shore. These sounds are constant, unchanging, infinitely repetitive. One noise you cannot hear amongst the natural symphony is that of man. The cold and empty town now makes more sense in your mind: there is no more presence of mankind in this place, save yourself. For what reason you are here when all others are gone, you do not know, nor do you attempt to ponder.

You think back to the decaying sign on the trail all that time ago. Though it was, in reality, only moments ago you were facing this sign, the concept of time has begun to lose its meaning. To you, it feels as if it had been years since the sign stood in your path. Staring out to sea now, the crumbling hulks of mankind's innovation occupy the same dark corner of your mind as the sign did, both projecting their messages into the world until they finally collapse, creeping corrosion and the inevitability of nature taking its toll. Is this all we leave behind? A legacy of rust and silent screams?

You are no different than the sign or the ships, you know. Have you brought more into this world than a slow rust? In the end, were you ever anything more than an iron sign?

You sit down on the sand, letting the salt and the sea envelop you for the final time.

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