The Colour of Rust – Indepentional

With a groan He awoke, stretching his arms and legs to try and shake off the weakness of sleep. His eyes opened to a beach, the ocean waters calmly lapping at the sand and rocks. There seemed to be no other people around. Where was He? And more important, what was his name? Those two vital pieces of information were completely unknown to Him. He was lying in the sand with nothing on his person. So much nothing that he was in fact naked. He kept low, not wanting to be seen in his privates despite the loneliness of his surroundings. A bit further down the beach He spied a pair of sand-spattered trousers. Staying low to the ground He scrambled over and tugged at them. The motion disturbed the sand, shifting it to reveal a pair of feet sticking out the end. He jumped back in surprise more than horror. It occurred to Him that it was a body, a dead person, but that bothered Him surprisingly little. He tugged on the trouser-leg a little more to ensure the former owner was in fact dead before painstakingly and quietly claiming the leg-wear for himself.

He quickly left the open beach and found a little clump of trees to hide under. He didn’t know where or who He was, let alone where He could go. For now He figured He should look for other people, see what He could find.

Days passed as He slowly travelled, keeping to shadows and hiding places as much as He could. Occasionally He would find caches of food and water but little else of use. Buildings were visible in the horizon but were clearly abandoned, walls smashed and windows in pieces. Some nights He heard distant shouts and gunfire, but beyond that He was without human contact.

Night slowly fell outside his hiding hole. The total darkness of a night with no electrical lighting. He stayed hunched besides his little fire, anxious about the little light it spilled onto the rocks visible from the entrance to his little cave and who might see it.

Hours went by by the fire, even as it slowly reduced itself to embers. But just before He drifted off to sleep, he heard shouts outside the cave. He didn’t recognise the voices but when you couldn’t even remember your own name, who’s to say you could remember anyone else? Cautiously he got up and left the cave. A scattered group of torches was marching through the night, illuminating a group of 4 men and women in patched-up hazmat suits. Each held a pistol of some sort in one hand and a lit torch in their other, except the front-woman who had some long rifle with a flashlight attached with some sort of wire. They were all looking around as they marched, shouting a name. Julian-82, Julian-82. For all He knew it could be Him and they were the only people He had seen up-close for what felt like days. He considered running back into the cave to make his own torch but the fire was just embers now. It would take too long to light. So he ran towards the group while trying to ignore the night chill. They stopped their march as he got close, moving into a semi-circle around him when he stopped. He could see the answer to his silent question in their faces that showed no recognition.

One of the men holding torches stepped forward. “Who are you?”

“That’s what I don’t know. I was hoping your group would.” He responded.

“Well we don’t. Now scram.” The man levelled his pistol at him but was interrupted before he could pull the trigger.

“Woah woah, wait a moment Krys. He might not be him but maybe he’s seen Julian.” The lead woman urged.

The man sighed but lowered his gun again. “You heard her. Have you seen our missing friend?”

The friendly woman stepped in to describe this ‘Julian’. No recognition. “Sorry to disappoint, but I haven’t seen anyone else for a while, let alone your friend.” He responded before turning away to return to his cave.

He heard the rustle of their firearms again. “Woah woah, who said you could just leave?” The man said.

“Krys, calm down.” The woman chided. He could see that her flashlight was still trained on his back.

“We don’t know this bloke, he could be a spy going back to his friends to tell on us.”

A moment of silence. He dared not turn around. “That is true-”

A burst of gunfire ripped through the night, cutting off the woman’s reply with a gurgle. He didn’t wait to see where it had come from before He was in a sprint to get away as quickly as possible. Behind Him more gunfire and shouting erupted as the ambush continued and ‘Krys’ and the rest of that group responded. He had not gotten far before He could see that the ambushers were using his cave as cover so he couldn’t go that way. So He just ran away, as fast and as far as his legs could carry him through the night.

After what felt like hours later, finally exhausted and completely out of breath, He collapsed beneath a rock formation like a giant tripod. In the growing morning light it seemed like there was a sheet-metal signboard on top of the rock tripod but He was too tired to think much of it. He was asleep before he had sat all the way down.

Slowly He awoke, stinging his face against the bush He had collapsed under. He still felt  tired and completely battered. So why had he woken up?

Any remaining traces of sleep vanished like snow in a fire when a spear clattered off the stone immediately next to his head. As He scrambled to his feet He noticed that the stone-tip was nearly the colour of rust from dried blood, the haft equally caked in the stuff. He rounded the nearest corner of the rock formation when a metal sword barely missed him to clang against the stone.

“Stand still, little ham!” A woman dressed in skins and combat-camo trousers screeched before drawing the sword back up for another swing. He dived forwards past the woman’s metal-capped knees to avoid the attack, narrowly escaping the second strike and scrambling to keep running and not plant his face in the dirt following the reckless dive. Then He was past the woman shouting behind him, swishing sounds in the air as she swiped more sword-swings at Him, sprinting back the way He had come the night before. A burst of gunfire to his right and a spray of dirt effectively closed off the old path and He changed direction as best He could in the grass that was still wet with morning dew. Another spear sailed uselessly past him and embedded itself in the dirt.

“I just want some cracklin’!” The woman screeched as she continued her pursuit. He seemed faster than her but He could not outrun a hidden gunman, though the sounds of his two pursuers boots grew weaker and weaker as He ran, sucking down as much air as He could, crashing through a small copse of trees to emerge into a larger grass field. Scattered wooden buildings surrounded a wooden hall of sorts in the middle of the field. A painted sign read “Tunder Shack” in cartoon letters next to a brutish face.

Out of breath, He staggered around the corner of the shack and tumbled into a bush. The noises of his pursuers running through the grass on the other side was loud so He hunched as much as He could, quietened his breathing and even closed his eyes. The boots came close, terrifyingly close. The scrape of metal-on-metal as the crazy woman drew her sword and the man messed about with his firearm. Next He heard a rustling of cloth and a burst of static.

One of his pursuers, a man with a darker voice, spoke into what He presumed was a radio. “Hey Pyrion, we found a Naked on the perimeter but lost him around the south corner of the Shack. You see anything?” A long moment passed. He took a deep a breath as He dared when a reply came through the radio.

The dark-voiced man made a ‘Hmm’ noise in response. “We’ll keep looking. Keep an eye out.” Another mumbled reply came back, a rustle of cloth and their boots moved on. He waited until the metal-on-metal sound of the woman’s sheathed sword was out of his hearing before cautiously standing up. They were nowhere to be seen. The sun was behind him by now so there was no need to shield his eyes. On the other side of the palisade was yet another field of green grass. More wooden buildings overlooked the area, one of them a wide tower, the peak dotted with platforms and large windows. In one of them He could see a glint, like sunlight reflected in a spyglass.

Or a sniper’s scope. The thought came to Him in the same instant as a distant shout rang out. “Get domed, nerd!” and He saw a brighter flash from the same window. He had no time to react before his vision exploded in bright red then went black. A bright pain seared through his body before fading almost instantly and his body failed him, collapsing into the red-stained grass.

 


 

With a start He woke, hands scrabbling to get out of the sleeping bag and scratch at his face. A moment passed before He calmed and looked at them. Why had He expected them to be covered in his own blood. Furthermore, why was he in a dark cave next to a slowly-smoking campfire. And what was his name?

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