Thursday, June 10, 2010

The World in Miniature: The Rusting Forest

by Bryan Russell

The Rusting Forest

The land breathed, swelling beneath Mark’s feet, rolling and falling, exhaling heat that hissed up through the dust. Mark watched the horizon. His eyes tricked him with dreams of a geometric forest.

He hitched up his backpack, walking, eyes down. Every few minutes he looked up to see the forest growing. Hard lines, right angles.

Mark drew close, staring upward. All around him grew the iron forest, girdered towers rising up into the air, sharp fingers plucking at the bitter brightness of the sky. Wires slung themselves about everywhere, winding through the air, draped from tower to tower to tower.

It was not new, this geometric forest. Silent and dark, its steel limbs reflecting little of the sun. A graveyard, the bones of fantastical trees rotting, bleeding rust.

Flakes whispered down. In the grass the rust stained the earth, the floating dust stained orange.

The scent of metal pervasive, wires swaying in the breeze.

A group of boys running through the grass. There were cows grazing, huddled in the precise angles of shade.

“Here, here!” Mark said, and the boys ran over. Sweat on their dark skin, though they were not so damp as Mark. He waved his hand at the forest. “What is this?”

“Voice of America! Voice of America!” the boys yelled in English and ran off, laughing.

Mark nodded. A relay station. Old, pre-satellite communication. But there were no signals now, just hollow air. He pulled out his cellphone, aimed it up at the array. His finger hesitated, unwilling to snap the picture.

He looked back at the grazing cattle, the boys running. The boys in their old t-shirts, some with bare feet, running across the sloughed off skins of metal trees. Mark looked up again at the rusting forest, the wires like lines of latitude and longitude crossing the sky.

Obsolete, now.

Mark put his cellphone away, hitched up his pack, started walking. He looked back once, at the giant skeleton of a future that would never arrive here.


JustineDell said...

Someone will actually do this one day.

Short stories never cease to amaze me. It's incredible how much one can put into such a short space. Nice job, Bryan!


Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, Justine!

And I do like the idea of compact little stories. Not big, but like an onion you can keep peeling away new layers.

Mira said...

This is beautifully written.

Quiet, slightly disturbing, somewhat sad.

I love your metaphor of trees made of metal - and the irony of a cellphone snapping their picture. Deceptively simple, nicely done - although I will say, the last line was abit confusing....a future that will never come?

I also had a bit of trouble joining in the nostalgia - I never liked those trees, frankly.

But your sub-context of dreams and visions that are no longer relevant is abit haunting, as much of your writing is.

Mira said...

oh wait - I guess I said it myself. Visions and dreams that will never come - that's the future that will never come. :)

Got it.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I think what I was trying to get at with the ending is that the industrialized West went to foreign countries (poor ones) and built these huge relay stations. And now they're obsolete and rusting and have just been left there. Why bother with the expense of taking them down? And yet the surrounding people are still at an industrial level far before these stations whice are now obsolete - technological future which will never reach these people. They just have the skeleton of it, rusting away...

Mira said...


Well, it seems like I sometimes completely misinterpret a piece, and I have mixed feelings about that. Is it such a bad thing that I'm happily skipping around in metaphorland, even if they are the wrong metaphors??? Yes, I missed the political context, but I think I got the mood of the piece...

Well, if you wanted me, as a reader, to get the context - maybe a touch more - even a word or two - or the title - would have helped ground me. I do see the 'in English' line now, so there was a bit there.

Is it okay to give feedback here? Seems like blogs are mostly positive. But I have such respect for you as a writer, and I know you're experimenting.

But regardless of my misunderstanding, Bryan, this flows lyrically and beautifully. Your voice is getting strong, distinct and recognizable.

You know, this is a much longer post than I intended, Bryan - sorry - but I'm thinking as I write. You write prose that is very close to poetry. And poetry conveys much more than the surface meaning of the piece. I think that is true with this one. And I'm not just saying that. I never just say things about writing.

Anyway, lovely piece.

Mira said...

It had a science fiction feel to me, btw.

Okay, enough from me. :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

In a weird way, this reminds me of my uncle's front yard. He lives in a semi-rural area, wooden house, and then smack in the middle of his yard, like 5 feet from the driveway, is this GIANT transformer tower.

You seriously don't realize how big or annoying one of those things is until it's that close, and yet it's been there since I can remember as part of the landscape.

There was the house, the chicken coop, and the ugly metal tower you're amazed no one ever hit with a pick-up truck.

Matthew Rush said...

This may be your best yet Bryan (of the ones I've seen that is). The idea of a city rusting into powder viewed as an ancient geometric forest if beautiful to me for some reason, not the imagery of it of course, but the writing. Haunting, but beautiful.

Today's guest blogger is Hilary Wagner!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Josin, yeah, that's exactly the sort of feeling I was thinking about.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, Matt!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...


I think if it was a longer piece I probably would have tried to spell everything out more. But I think flash fiction is a bit more like poetry, so I left a couple clues but was happy to leave it a little more amorphous, with the idea that I could try to evoke the idea and feeling rather than talk about it directly. And while obsolete for us, the technology for the farmers and herdsmen living there is sort of sci-fi - a future that has skipped right over them. Even if a new future comes, it won't be that obsolete one, but simply the lease of newer satellite/digital technology.

Mira said...

Bryan - yes, that makes sense - flash fiction is like poetry. It's pretty cool.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I had just read a few pages from a WIP that was a future world filled with rust, so my mind immediately went there - then zoomed back with the cell-phone.

So, I had to read this one twice to really absorb it - funny how our preconcieved notions (even recently acquired ones) can taint how we see something!

It's very evocative, even more lyrical than your pieces normally are, and I like that side of your writing, so I was glad to see it. The flakes of rust on the bare feet twinged the Mom in me. I love their present contrasted with the lost future represented by the decaying towers, the broken promise.

Very nice. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

p.s. VOA still broadcasts in short-wave radio, no? (in addition to AM, FM, digital satellite and internet streaming)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

You might be right about that, Susan. I'd been reading how lots of the old overseas relay stations have been abandoned - not really needed with satellite communication. And now they're just sitting there.

And sometimes it's hard to slip in lyrical in under 500 words! Luckily my novels have lots of purdy words. :)