Sandpaper air grinds through my lungs, each breath like dragging bricks from the mud. I’ve walked for miles and miles across this wasteland. Dust and ash. A world dead, nothing lives here long, but I walk onward. A sky of gray looms overhead, thunder in the distance, it’s impossibly deep, bassey tones echo from dead horizon to dead horizon. There has been no break, no respite from the journey, a path stretching out across a wasteland of my own making. A world that was once full of green and possibilities, lit by a spark, became an inferno, became impossible to sustain and then, silence. Dead. This is it. A new frontier, a trek across the Whatever Lies Beyond Burned Out. Sometimes someone else will stumble through, in a daze, and in a similar condition to myself. Their clothes tattered, their eyes sunken and hollow. No light, no joy. Sometimes I come to crossroads, and can even see a hill of grass, far in the distance. But I do not go to it, after all this place was once green. If I change my path, go elsewhere, who is to say that it too will become dust and ash. Dust and Ash. Ash from bridges long burned, from ideas, once great flames of passion, now embers and now gone. Dust from mistakes, never forgotten, forever remembered. This is it, no one lasts long out here in the Whatever Lies Beyond Burned Out. I stop. I can’t continue even if I wanted to. There is no point, I have walked this path for years and years, and as I traveled the sky darkened and blackened until I could not see, and the ash coated the ground. Others stopped and rested or took a different road, but I walked on, though my feet were torn and bloody, and I could no longer feel them, though I grew weak and empty as the food ran out, though I stumbled time and time again. It was all supposed to be a part of the journey “you are supposed to stumble” they said, “it’s okay to fall” they reassured; but I kept falling, till I crawled in the ash, then stopped entirely, a wreck of what was once a human. They said to never stop or alter course on that path, never slow down, never give up. But they never walked this road, they were never ripped to shreds by storms, or worse still, left to rot in the sun for years; and all the while told to keep going, to keep on it. I wonder if they too chased some ideal, a glimmer in the distance, only for it to be a mirage, and then to walk on still, towards nothing from nothing. No point, no goal. Perhaps they did. Perhaps they convinced themselves the walk wasn’t that bad, that they could even grow used to this barren desert. So they walked on, walked and walked and walked, until their soul was left behind, so that it could no longer ask why they were walking, and then they continued on and on and on until one day they stop and look around and wonder how they got there, and where their soul went, and why they could no longer feel their feet. Then they would crumple, fall apart, maybe make a last attempt to leave this place, sometimes they make it, sometimes they cannot, and they fall before they cross even a hundred feet, then crawl on in the ash. I will not let myself become that, I can’t, but even as I think it, I realize it may already be too late, already reduced to an automaton, a machine where once was a soul, a lifetime in a desert. But perhaps there is still time, still a way out. It will be difficult, and I may not make it at all, but I could leave this path; I could leave the pain and leave this lifetime of monotony and misery. All I have to do is leave the path. I think I will, first I must get up, and learn how to walk again, but I will; I will walk again. I will walk myself into a brighter day, into a place where the sky is clear and the sun is gentle and although rough ground will come and go, the days will be full of hope. I am going to leave the dust and ash of Whatever Lies Beyond Burned Out behind.