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By the time the road had become something more than a narrow strip of dirt and rock, the signs were no longer readable. The lone traveller, a haggard and weary man with a magnificently unkempt beard, had seen the bright blue sign from some distance away and made it his goal. As he neared it he felt his heart start to hammer in his breast - surely this was the sign he had been waiting for, his milestone.
However he stood before the sign with slumping shoulders that bore the weight of disappointment. The words were foreign to him; nothing more than symbols.
Down through the mountains he had come, bearing the bruises and marks of a journey that had not been kind to him until he had found a path and followed it.
Followed it there, to that useless sign.
The road became less rugged, but as he stepped from the soft earth to the hard, unforgiving pavement, he was not comforted. This road would only lead to more indecipherable signs filled with symbols he could never hope to understand. He sighed and wiped his grimy hand over his face.
His journey was not over. It was not over and he had only one token left.
A short way ahead, posted like a traffic dam, was a tollgate stretched across the length of the road with only one remaining tollbooth. To see something of civilization this far from the decrepit cities he had left behind him was a sort of cruel visual irony that he marked by spitting on the blacktop. A few drops of spittle clung to the bushy mass of his straggly brown-and-grey beard, rolling down the course hairs to drip then on his rough shirt.
With the shuffle of begrudging determination that told of a weary but unbroken man, the traveller approached the tollbooth. His milky blue eyes set forward to the land beyond it, wondering what was so special about it. He never understood the tolls. They felt like concrete proof that humans always wanted the green grass on the other side and were willing to pay for the mere idea of it.
To his surprise, there was an old man sitting inside, leaning heavily on his hand as he slept. The strength of his snore was like distant thunder and the traveller rolled his eyes as he came to the window. The sleeper was a strikingly hairy man, that is, everywhere save for the liver-spotted naked canvass of his skull. His eyebrows were white and stood out at least an inch so that if he made any expression at all he would appear incredibly animated. Most impressive of all though was the white beard that had grown right around his hand and down to the desk, where old paperwork had begun to disintegrate.
The traveller smacked his lips to wet them, an old, weathered sound that was eclipsed by the slow, rhythmic snoring of the old toll-keeper. Digging into his pocket, he groped around to find the token required of him. He knew it was his last, but this was the path he had chosen and there was no alternative.
He would pay the price.
He would carry on.
Pulling forth the bronze token from the depths of his pocket brought forth other treasures as well: a bit of yellow string and a veritable handful of fluff and leaves that had simply accumulated there over time. It had been a long trek through the mountains, bound to that thin, narrow path that had led him here, and the traveller had no need for his pockets then. Pockets were for storing things of importance, of which he had few.
The bushy-bearded man held up the token for a moment, studying the image on it to memorize it so he could remember it later, on this last leg of his journey. Alas, to his chagrin, he found that the words thereon had gone the same way of the blue road-sign. He could no longer read the symbols printed upon the cold surface, a realization to which he merely shook his head and mumbled curmudgeonly.
Even after the traveller cleared his scratchy throat, the toll-keeper did not stir. Nor did he when the token tinkled into the metal slot. He was too far gone, lulled to sleep by the vacancy of the forgotten land he had, at one point, cared enough to monitor.
The traveller hitched his bag up his shoulder and started to walk again, following the edge of the road with his milky blue eyes peeled for any sign of another rocky path that could lead him away from the cold, hard, insistence of the road ahead.
Written by [Roma]
Pick a Prompt 2
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