The Rust Knight
Summary: As summer faded, I saw an avatar of autumn in an abandoned factory.
I grew up deep in the Rust Belt, in a small town of forlorn hills and forsaken factories. Due to the peculiar microclimate, we'd sometimes get warmer climates well into the first week of October. I used those weeks to explore the husks of the abandoned factories and deep forests, wondering what transpired there in earlier ages.
It was late in September that my urban exploration yielded a stranger result than normal. I entered the old Weiss Tooling Company building, an old brick structure populated by cobwebs and decrepit machine husks. When the company went under, much of their heavy machinery was built into the structure, and left to rust when they finally locked the doors five decades ago.
Since then, it was my favorite structure to survey. My favorite chamber was an old factory floor with a partially collapsed, allowing sunlight in. A few hardy plants grew beneath the aperture, including a surprisingly thick oak tree. I relaxed beneath it throughout the summer, listening to podcasts and sketching story outlines in my notebook. I saw it while sitting beneath its boughs.
I heard a sound over the narrator of a podcast on Mongolian history. It was a mechanical rumbling, like a distant combustion engine. I wondered if a car pulled up to the remote structure, some long absent watchman or caretaker finally fulfilling their duty. I paused it and cautiously headed towards the nearest window.
I saw nothing outside, but the sound grew louder behind me. A cool wind struck me from behind, forming goosebumps on my skin. I felt a gust of warmer air that caused beads of sweat to form on my brow. I heard the green leaves of the oak tree rustle like chattering voices. I turned with supernal celerity as footfalls like blown leaves. I saw I was no longer alone.
Two figures stood beneath the tree, both less than four yards from me. I thought the first was a man in a leather jacket, but instead possessed a more surreal composition. His skin was flakes of rusted iron, interspersed with the blood-colored leaves of deep autumn. His "clothing" was spun of brown and orange leaves, with joints that squealed like those of an ancient machine. His face was concealed behind a welder's mask, and his head was concealed by an old miner's helmet. In his hands, he held a chainsaw with rusted links that rattled like hungry insects. He nodded in acknowledgment of me, before bowing to the figure across from him.
He raised his chainsaw to a perfect contrast. She was a nearly elven figure of splendid beauty, clad in the green grandeur of high summer. Her chainmail was as blue as the cerulean sky or summer sea. She held a lean cutlass in her hand, its sheath decorated in vines and flowers. A warmth came off of her as she raised her blade in a salute to me. She turned to me and similarly bowed. Then, she turned to her entropic counterpart.
I saw the clash of steel, with sparks flying between the curved cutlass and shrieking chainsaw. Neither weapon behaved like a real object, but instead resembled a prop in an actor's hand. The way they fought seemed like a dance, with the mummer-like steps and pirouetting twirls. However, their blades were aimed at the other's heads and torsos, and I saw both bleed. The summer swordswoman bled warm, steaming blood. The rust knight bled thick, oily ichor. In the end, the rust knight rammed the blade into her midsection. They vanished, leaving me alone in the factory.
I blinked. I noticed something moving a minute later, a single browning leaf falling from the oak tree. I exhaled, sending it blowing in the distant wind. Outside, I saw the leaves of the nearby woods were beginning to brown. Perhaps they'd been that way before, but I only noticed then. Either way, I felt perhaps I beheld something like a changing of the guard, a symbolic combat to mark the passage of seasons.
Perhaps I will see the Rust Knight this December, when winter comes.